Westerville's City Council is working on an ordinance to ban discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Council member Valerie Cumming says a lack of movement on the "Ohio Fairness Act," which ensures similar protections statewide, is part of the impetus for the measure.
"If this is going to happen, municipalities are going to have to step up and be the ones to take the lead on this," Cumming says. "The hope being, of course, that if enough cities do it, the state will follow suit and recognize that this is an issue and they're moving in the wrong direction."
Cumming says many municipalities have already done their part, with 26 cities plus Cuyahoga County passing similar ordinances across Ohio. But she recognizes that such a patchwork nature is not a perfect solution.
"You go into one community, there's one set of laws, you go into another community, there's another set of laws. Ideally, that would not be the case," Cumming says. "But our only option at this point is to either wait for the legislature to do something, which clearly they're not going to, or to do something ourselves."
While the details are not completely ironed out, Cumming says the city hopes to work with Columbus to enforce the law. People will fill out a complaint in Westerville, then it will be processed through Columbus's human rights commission, who will adjudicate and carry out any enforcement.
"We felt that was more than our mayor's court could take on," she says. "Other communities like Worthington have a human rights commission of their own; we do not."
The council hopes to finish drafting the measure this month, with a goal of beginning hearings by October at the latest.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost recently filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that federal civil rights laws don't cover gender identity or sexual orientation, and that it's up to Congress to enshrine those protections. LGBTQ advocates responded with a renewed push to pass the "Ohio Fairness Act," which has been stalled in the Republican-dominated legislature.