LGBTQ Group Advocates for Non-Discrimination Policy in City School District
Debbie Ziccardi, 07-23-2018

Gwen Stembridge, of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Ohio, spoke to the Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education on April 4th of this year to advocate for non-discrimination policy in the city school district at the request of Board member Anthony Gomez.

Gomez told the Falls Free Press that “in America, unfortunately, people are only protected if there’s a law that says so. Being new to the School Board, I knew this was an issue I wanted to bring up. I’ve found that our district is very accommodating when it comes to LGBTQ students and staff, but we don’t actually fully protect them through our policies. I believe that those important enough to accommodate are important enough to protect.”

In Ohio, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are not protected classes. Ohio is one of 28 states that leaves LGBTQ people out of laws that make discrimination illegal. There are 19 cities in Ohio that have enacted legislation to ensure discrimination against LGBTQ people is illegal. The Ohio Fairness Act, which is currently being considered by the state House of Representatives, would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the laws that make discrimination illegal in Ohio.

“Our state's current non-discrimination protections allow Ohioans to be evicted and fired simply for being who they are,” Stembridge said. “Both the public and the private sector understand the need to implement comprehensive non-discrimination legislation.”

This issue is personal to Gomez, who said “I went through [the Cuyahoga Falls] school district as a closeted gay kid. I want our students and staff to have the freedom to be authentically themselves.” He said he hopes that by updating the district’s policies, LGBTQ students and staff can feel fully included in the district community. He suggested that “it may help attract talent, as people of all stripes will know that this is a positive and affirming district. We pledge that our district is committed to a culture of caring. This is another way to show how we care about our students and staff.”

The policy committee—consisting of Gomez, Board member Patrice White, Superintendent Todd Nichols, and interim treasurer Kathryn Brugger—met April 23rd to explore the possibilities for the new policy, after which a draft was referred to legal counsel for review. The committee plans to review and finalize the policy draft in June so it can be voted on by the Board and become effective before the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

Check the Media page for a bonus interview podcast with School Board member Anthony Gomez.

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