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Lawmakers Consider Adding Sexual Orientation To Civil Rights Act

A bill has been introduced in the Ohio legislature that would expand the civil rights act to include sexual orientation. This legislation has been introduced before but this time around, the legislature is controlled by some of the most conservative Republicans the state has seen in a long time. For five years, Bonnie McGinness says she was doing what she loved; working as an English teacher in public schools in Ohio. She says she got good reviews and her students were learning. But things changed when her marriage fell apart. "After going through a divorce, I was outed as a lesbian. And after I was outed, homophobic panic swept through the community and I was the subject of what I would call a witch hunt," says McGinness. "I received death threats at work and home. I was harassed and feared greatly for my physical safety. For 5 years, I was an excellent teacher but once word got out that I was a lesbian, I didn’t have a chance. Ultimately, my family doctor informed me that my health was deterioration and I needed to resign." McGinness moved to a different community and once again got a job as a teacher but she experienced the same problems all over again once it was discovered that she was gay. She soon discovered she’s not the only one who’s had this experience. "This happens all of the time, every year," McGinness says. "Sometimes it’s public, sometimes it’s not. And this is frustrating because even now when I go back to the community, my kids still live there, people come up to me telling me how wrong it is …what I went through….that they are so sorry for what I went through and how somebody should have done something to stop it. They are right…it was wrong," says McGinness. Democratic State Representative Nicky Antonio, a lesbian herself, says it’s time that sexual orientation be included in the state’s civil rights act. "The constitution makes no exceptions and neither should the state of Ohio," says Antonio. Republican State Representative Ross McGregor agrees that sexual orientation should be protected under Ohio’s civil rights act. He says it’s important for the state’s economic development. "If we are really intent on creating a 21st century economy, then we have to be welcoming to those people with the talent and creativity to take these jobs," says McGregor. But a long time opponent of this type of legislation will once again oppose it. "Homosexuality is about sexual desires and whom you choose to have sex with and that is not a basis for civil rights," says Phil Burress with Citizens for Community Values. Burress says there is no proof that homosexuals are being discriminated against and he says the same goes for stories like that of McGinnis'. "That’s not a history of discrimination. I mean just about everyone who you speak to has claims they’ve been mistreated or discriminated against. In the 21 years that I’ve been president of CCV, I’ve had 13 death threats but I’m not asking that the laws be changed to protect me," says Burress. Burress says the campaign to put sexual orientation into the civil rights act is nothing more than an attempt to allow gay marriage in Ohio. But he says he's not losing sleep over the bill. " The bill is not a risk. It passed the house last year because it was Democrat controlled. I think they had 3 or 4 Republicans who joined them. And they are targets for defeat because they supported such legislation. When it got to the senate it died. It’s not going anywhere in the house and the senate," says Burress. But backers of this bill say it’s important to keep the conversation about this issue alive, no matter its chances in the legislature.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.