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LGBTQ Advocates Say Yost Proves Need To Pass 'Ohio Fairness Act'

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Karen Desuyo

Late Friday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a "friend of the court" brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case, arguing that federal civil rights laws do not provide LBGTQ employees protection against workplace discrimination.

The case concerns the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender. Yost, along with other attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice, arguethe law doesn’t apply to gender identity or sexuality.

Equality Ohio, an advocacy group for the LGBTQ community, disagrees strongly with that stance.

"There have been many courts, including the 6th Circuit that sits in Ohio, that sits in Cincinnati, that have found that sex covers sexual orientation and gender identity," says communication director Grant Stancliff. "So we saw this as pretty negative action for Ohio to join this amicus brief."

Yost said in a statement that the case was not about LGBTQ protections but about judiciary power.

"The plain language of Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating because of sex, not sexual orientation or gender identity," the statement reads. "If the law is to be amended, Congress, not the courts, should be the one doing it."

But Stancliff sees it differently, saying that some courts have interpreted the law in the broader sense.

"It's well within the purview of the Supreme Court to make a decision when it comes to interpreting conflicting decisions of the lower courts," he says.

However, Stancliff does see the need for legislative action.

"It underscores the importance of something like the 'Ohio Fairness Act' in Ohio, to say specifically that Ohio discrimination laws protect LGBTQ people against discrimination," he says. "Without that, we have to rely on these court interpretations of what these words mean."

SB11, known commonly as the "Ohio Fairness Act," would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under Ohio’s anti-discrimination law. It would apply to issues with employment, housing and public accomodations.

Currently, Ohio is ranked among the worst states for LGBTQ equality.

Stancliff also says Yost's brief seems like a departure from recent actions by Republican statewide officeholders.

"It does feels discordant, it feels out of line with the executive order that Gov. DeWine signed, essentially protecting state employees that are LGBTQ, from being fired simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," he says.

The order was first signed by John Kasich soon before he left office.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.