Coalition members say a statewide anti-discrimination bill is good for the economy.

More than 60 Ohio corporations, small businesses, universities and nonprofits are backing the latest proposal—the sixth in the last six sessions of the General Assembly—to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's nondiscrimination laws.

About half the members of a statewide coalition called Ohio Business Competes are based in central Ohio. They include Abercrombie & Fitch, American Electric Power, Bob Evans Farms, Cardinal Health, Donatos, Homage, Huntington Bancshares, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, Squire Patton Boggs and Resource/Ammirati. The full list is online at ohiobusinesscompetes.org.

The coalition members, all of whom have their own policies in place to ensure they won't discriminate against LGBT employees and customers, say a statewide law is necessary. It's not just a matter of fairness, they contend, but it also helps Ohio's economy.

“Huntington supports the Ohio Business Competes coalition because we support anti-discrimination legislative efforts in alignment with our corporate policies,” company spokesman Brent Wilder says. “Protections from workforce, housing and service discrimination are necessary for Ohio to remain competitive as a leading destination to live and work.”

Federal anti-discrimination laws protect people based on race, color, religion, age, gender, national origin, disability and other factors, but 20 states go further and also ban the denial of employment, housing or business services to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ohio does not.

Although seven of Ohio's 10 biggest cities have enacted LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws at the local level—Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati are among them—just 21 percent of the state's population is protected, according to Equality Ohio, a statewide group that advocates for LGBT civil rights.

Grant Stancliff, communications director for Equality Ohio and Ohio Business Competes, says that leaves many LGBT people vulnerable in the state. Advocates such as Stancliff often point out that since the 2016 US Supreme Court decision extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, Ohioans can get married one day and get fired the next.

“That's pretty much it,” says Mary Turocy, director of public affairs for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. Although claims are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, she says, “If the employer says, ‘I'm firing you because you're gay,' there's pretty much nothing we can do about it.”

Openly gay state Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, has introduced House Bill 160, also called the Ohio Fairness Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing or public accommodations. Co-sponsors include Columbus Democrats Kristin Boggs, Hearcel Craig, Bernadine Kennedy-Kent, David Leland and Adam Miller.

Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order in 2011 that bars discrimination in state government hiring based on sexual orientation, but he deleted gender identity from a rule enacted by his predecessor, Ted Strickland.