Ohio Business Competes is nearing a major milestone.
At 956 signatories, the coalition of entities standing up to say that discrimination has no place in Ohio’s workplaces is only a few shy of that eye-catching target of 1000. As LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace, public accommodations, and housing are all still legal in Ohio, Ohio Business Competes is an integral part of passing the Ohio Fairness Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the laws that make discrimination illegal in Ohio.
We spoke with Dominic Detwiler, Public Policy Strategist at Equality Ohio, to get the latest update on Ohio Business Competes, the significance of getting to 1000, and how the heck we can (finally!) get the Fairness Act passed.
For people who don’t know, what is Ohio Business Competes?
Ohio Business Competes is our nonpartisan coalition of businesses, nonprofits, universities, unions, and other entities in the world that are committed to passing nondiscrimination protections at the state level, and right now that is passing the Ohio Fairness Act.
Give us the latest update on the Ohio Fairness Act.
You know, it’s been a wild couple of years and even wilder couple of months since the coronavirus and the Larry Householder debacle. Before all of this, we really had the strongest momentum we’ve ever had. It’s a bipartisan bill in both the House and the Senate. We had some hearings going and we were having conversations with the leadership in both caucuses on both sides of the statehouse. There really was movement.
And then the pandemic started. Everything just kind of got put on pause. And then the Larry Householder thing happened and that proved to be a distraction from our momentum.
But we feel really good about where things are for lame duck. Speaker [Robert] Cupp has been more supportive than past speakers and has been willing to talk to us about the issue. We feel really good about the potential to get these protections passed.
How does Ohio Business Competes help support the Ohio Fairness Act?
It helps immensely. Every year, the coalition gets bigger. One of the bigger opposition points we’ve gotten from legislators is that they don’t understand why we need [the Fairness Act]. They think it’s going to be bad for small businesses. But if you look at the list, the majority of those signed on are small businesses. We have Ohio Business Competes members with a presence in every legislative district. This really helps us connect supportive business leaders to their legislators to talk about making Ohio a more competitive place to do business and to keep talent in our state instead of having talent leave for more LGBTQ+-supportive places.
You’re currently at 956 businesses signed on. What’s the significance of getting to 1000?
The big thing is that 1000 is a lot of businesses. That number is going to turn heads. We’ve always been good at making this business argument. We have all of the regional chambers of commerce and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce on Board. Having 1000 businesses in the state with a presence in every legislative district can really bring the issue home to legislators in a way we’ve been trying to do for 15 years.
Are there just some legislators who will never support fairness?
Our goal is not to get 99 votes in the house and 33 in the Senate. We are strategic in how we spend our time. There are always going to be legislators we just can’t convince. Ron Hood is not someone who is going to vote with us. He’s gotten an F on both of our scorecards and is introducing policies that are intended to do harm to the LGBTQ+ community. The same goes for Nino Vitale or Candice Keller. We’re not going to get all of those folks and that’s ok. We need 50+1 and that’s plenty for us.
If businesses are saying, “The Fairness Act would be good for us,” what really is the opposition?
I think there’s a lot of old guard that are trying to appeal to real or fabricated ideas of what it means to be a social conservative or a Republican That point has been refuted so many times with Republicans across the state or across the country.
[Ohio Secretary of State] Frank LaRose said at our release event for the Scorecard that everyone told him his career as a Republican would be over when he introduced the Ohio Fairness Act in the Senate, but that he proved them wrong because he won the statewide election and is the secretary of state. There’s just a lot of old thinking that isn’t necessarily in touch with reality when it comes to what the expectations are for conservatives.
We should also dispel the notion out there that we don’t need the Ohio Fairness Act because of the Bostock decision, right?
The Bostock decision was fantastic. It was really decisive. It was really helpful. But Bostock doesn’t cover housing, so people can still be denied an apartment because they are LGBTQ. Bostock doesn’t cover public accommodations, so people can be kicked out of a restaurant if they go out with their spouse.
Bostock also doesn’t cover all employment. It only covers employment under federal law, which is businesses that employ 15 or more employees. Ohio’s law covers down to 4 employees. That gap there is really huge. A majority of Ohioans work for places that are between 4 and 15.
If a business is not one of the 956 already part of Ohio Business Competes, why should they sign on?
It sends such a strong message that Ohio should be open for business for all and that organizations across the spectrum here in Ohio really just want everyone to have a fair shake and be protected from discrimination in their every day lives just like anyone else.
We need to do everything we can do to get folks to join onto Ohio Business Competes and to contact their elected officials and ask them to move the Ohio Fairness Act forward. The clock is ticking in terms of this General Assembly and we’re really looking to getting it across the finish line this year. 🔥