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Crain's Editorial: Right fight

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April 05, 2015

Crain's Cleveland Editorial: 

There's a new civil rights battle brewing in Indiana, and it should be a wake-up call for Ohio.

Indiana has been under the hot glare of public scrutiny since March 26, when Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a piece of legislation described as a religious freedom bill that would allow individuals and businesses to deny services to people if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

The backlash was immediate. Major companies condemned Indiana's law for opening the door for businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. Corporations from NASCAR and the NCAA to Subaru and Delta Faucet decried the decision. And Angie's List halted plans for a $40 million expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters in the aftermath of the bill's passage.

Unlike Indiana, Ohio doesn't have a so-called religious freedom law. We do, though, share something in common with our neighbor to the west. Both Ohio and Indiana — along with 27 other states — do not explicitly ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. That means as an LGBT person, it is possible that you can be fired or denied a job in Ohio. And unlike those discriminated against based on race or age, you wouldn't have the law to protect you.

That's where Ohio's civil rights battle should be waged. It's time for the state to enact statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people by adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under its civil rights laws.

We are not alone in espousing this viewpoint. We recently joined other Ohio businesses — including Eaton, Huntington Bank, Sherwin Williams and Squire Patton Boggs, as part of the Ohio Competitive Workforce Coalition — in calling for Ohio to modernize its nondiscrimination laws.

The majority of Ohio businesses favor federal and state laws protecting gay and transgender people in the workplace, according to a 2013 poll done by the Small Business Majority. In fact, 57% of small business owners believe that laws protecting against discrimination “improve a business's bottom line by attracting the best and brightest employees, regardless of whether an employee is gay or transgender.”

If the issue of basic fairness doesn't persuade, the bottom-line argument should. If we as a state want to attract the best and brightest to live and work here, we need to make it a welcoming place. That doesn't just mean a place where discrimination doesn't happen, it means a place where people are protected in advance. Plexus, the chamber of commerce for the LGBT community, told us of a young professional who moved to Cleveland for a big-firm job after working in San Francisco, Paris and New York City. But once he and his partner were expecting a child, they moved back to New York because of the uncertainty created by Ohio's lack of anti-discrimination laws for the LGBT community.

The best and the brightest come in all colors, shapes, sizes — and, yes, sexual orientations. It's harder to recruit and retain talent when you fail to protect a class of people.

As Apple CEO Tim Cook said recently in an op-ed in the Washington Post, “America's business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business.”

Read on Crain's Cleveland