Anti-discrimination laws passed in Bowling Green, Ohio!

Toledo Blade, OH, USA

Article published November 23, 2010

Anti-discrimination laws passed in Bowling Green

Gay, transgender rights activists cheer

By JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN – Cheers rang out from all but a handful of people crowding the Wood County Board of Elections office yesterday when it was learned that two city ordinances that protect gay and transgender persons from discrimination had passed.

The laws, which were adopted by Bowling Green City Council in August, 2009, were put before voters as referendums Nov. 2. On election night, one passed, the other failed – both by slim margins.

Monday, after provisional ballots were counted, an ordinance that adds 12 protected classes to the city’s housing code was approved, 4,767 to 4,284. An ordinance that protects those same groups from discrimination in employment, education, businesses, and public services passed, 4,635 to 4,338. That law also sets up a process by which complaints of discrimination can be heard by the city.

“Today the voters of Bowling Green sent a message that affirms that we are ‘One Bowling Green’ and we are fair and welcoming,” said Jane Rosser, who chaired the One Bowling Green campaign. “We began this campaign truly believing in a community that wants every person to be treated fairly, to have a fair chance, to be able to live, work, go to school, and play in our community without fear or discrimination.”

When the laws take effect in 30 days, Bowling Green will become the 17th Ohio city and one of more than 125 nationwide to have local ordinances that protect gay and transgender persons from discrimination.

“This marks an important victory for Bowling Green, where voters have affirmed that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are part of the fundamental social fabric of the city,” Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a  statement.

Mary Vollmar, a member of the group that got the referendums on the ballot, said she believes the ordinances lay the foundation for a campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.

“The battle for the sanctity of one-man, one-woman marriage in communities like ours starts with issues like these,” she said.

Kim Welter, who managed the campaign to keep the laws on the books, said Toledo passed similar legislation in 1998 and it certainly hasn’t led in that direction.

She also said Toledo has never received a complaint alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“This isn’t a way to cure discrimination,” Ms. Welter said. “This is an option to give people a place to report discrimination if they
choose to.”

Under the new law, allegations of discrimination would be reviewed by a city representative. If evidence of discrimination were found, the city would work with the two sides to reconcile the problem, and, if that failed, the individual believed to have broken the law could be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

Saying she was proud the ordinances had passed, Ms. Rosser added that those who sought to overturn the laws “brought messages into our community that caused fear and promoted misunderstanding.” While 12 groups of persons, including veterans and pregnant women, were among those who will be protected by the new laws, the campaign quickly became “a referendum on gay and transgender people,” she said.

“To many voters this wasn’t about equal access to housing and jobs, but rather, are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people worthy
members of our city?” Ms. Rosser said. “Are they worth protecting?”

Opponents of the ordinances Monday maintained that year-round city residents did not want the new laws but the student vote tipped the scale.

“We worked hard. We were extremely close considering we were outspent by about eight times,” said Crystal Thompson, spokesman for BG Citizens Voting No to Special Rights Discrimination.

The final results were not close enough to force an automatic recount.

“The city clearly didn’t want it,” Ms. Thompson said. “We had over a 1,000-vote lead at 11 p.m. election night.”

In fact, when 100 percent of the votes cast Nov. 2 were counted, both ordinances had failed. When absentee votes were added in later that night, one had passed by 24 votes, the other failed by 116 votes.

Volunteers with the Bowling Green Coalition for Justice were counting on the 944 provisional ballots cast in the city to give them a victory because they had worked hard to get Bowling Green State University students to the polls.

Terry Burton, deputy director of the elections board, said the majority of those casting provisional ballots in the city were BGSU
students, many of whom were registered to vote in their hometown but voted in Bowling Green.

Ms. Welter said she doesn’t believe the majority of city residents were opposed to the laws. Some may be opposed to adding new laws in general, she said, “but I don’t think most of BG thinks gay and transgender people should be discriminated against.”

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:
jfeehan@theblade.com
or 419-724-6129.

Copyright 2010 The Blade

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