Two-term African-American state Rep. Emilia Sykes says she's been talking for more than a year about being discriminated against by Statehouse security.
Sykes, 32, is in her second term in the legislature. The Akron representative is also the daughter of a former House member and a current state Senator.
But Sykes said since February 2017, she’s had troopers and security stop her at entrances several times – once with the comment that she "didn’t look like a legislator." She's been stopped while wearing her security badge and the pin marking her as a legislator, and stopped even though her colleagues with her were not.
She said she’s shared these stories often – most commonly when discussing stress levels on black women, who experience higher infant mortality rates, as she did with an older white male colleague.
“And I explained to him the story about walking in with another colleague, having my badge, having my pin, being validated by that colleague, but yet it was not enough for me to get in because I didn’t ‘look like a legislator,'" Sykes said. "And you could see the light bulb go off – like, oh, wow!”
And she said other African-American women legislators have similar stories. Sykes said sometimes it’s happened in ironic moments – like leaving the Riffe Center, where lawmakers’ offices are housed.
“I kid you not, we were walking from the Riffe to the Statehouse in a group, and I was the only one stopped, and they requested to search my bag," Sykes said. "I mean, I just left the meeting talking about how this happens all the time, I’m in a group of legislators and I was the only one stopped."
Sykes said her story got public attention when a friend tweeted it out. Sykes said it’s not just offensive to her personally, it also affects her ability to do her job in a timely manner.
It's a SHAME that my sister & friend, Rep.@EmiliaSykesOH of Ohio HD 34, was denied access to the Ohio State House by a security guard today. She is near the end of her 2nd term and is looking forward to her 3rd after the Nov 2018 election.
America, we must do better.
— Jeniece Brock (@JenieceBrock) May 31, 2018
Sykes said it raises real questions about what people think the face of leadership looks like.
“Is that face a middle aged, white male or is it a millennial black woman?" Sykes said. "And quite frankly, I’m hopeful that people can start to recognize that the leaders of our communities and the leaders of this state are not monolithic. And we have to recognize that.”
She noted that new security measures have been put into place in buildings on Capitol Square over the last few years, but her patience is wearing thin because this keeps happening to her - and not to her colleagues.
Sykes said she’s told the Ohio Highway Patrol and the House Speaker’s office about these incidents, and that the House Democrats’ legal counsel is compiling information.
The Ohio Highway Patrol said it hasn’t received any formal complaints from Sykes, but has reached out to her to set up a meeting about her concerns.