On the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, the Upper Arlington City Council voted unanimously on Monday evening to update their anti-discrimination ordinance with LGBTQ+ protections in housing, public accommodations, and employment.
The ordinance had not been updated in over 50 years, and will now define “protected class” to include “sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”
Before the vote took place, 15 different members of the Upper Arlington community spoke in support of the language. The speakers included business owners, parents, and local advocates.
Perhaps the most moving public comment was also the first. Sophie, a 14-year-old 9th grader at Upper Arlington High School, spoke about her recent coming out experience:
I recently came out as a bisexual member of the LGBTQ+ community to some of my family and my friend group. I have known I was bi since I was 10. I spent the last four years wondering what it meant to be bi, and what it meant to be in the closet. Newsflash: closets absolutely suck. They are the world’s heaviest weight on you, bigger than anyone can know. I was afraid to listen to or watch LGBTQ+ media because I genuinely believed there would be a fluorescent spotlight on me that would scream my identity. I’m 14. I was and still am sometimes utterly terrified to be myself.
I’m here today to say thank you. I personally don’t believe I should have to thank you for doing the right thing, but nevertheless, thank you. Thank you for signing this. Thank you for protecting people from discrimination in the future. Thank you for making it possible for me and other LGBTQ+ members to be protected working in UA. No one should have to be afraid for merely existing. No one should have to be worried about being hired or losing a job simply because they say who they are. No one, absolutely no one should have to be in a closet.
Later in the public comments, Reverend Joel Esala of Covenant Presbyterian Church spoke in support of the ordinance from his professional perspective:
Ensuring that our laws and ordinances explicitly protect marginalized people is both moral and wise. It’s good morals and good business. As a pastor I will leave the business side to others, but on the morality side, welcoming other people is a central tenant of the Christian faith.
Romans 15:7 says, “Welcome each other the same way that Christ welcomed you.” My theology teaches us that Christ welcomes us exactly as we are without qualifications or amendments. We are each beloved by God and we all deserve love and belonging. Churches of all kinds love to say that they welcome everyone, but our history tells us a different story. Too often we’ve chosen exclusion over welcome. We’ve chosen judgment over justice. And that is true for Upper Arlington as well. We are not here to be right. But by God’s grace, we are here to get it right. This ordinance helps Upper Arlington get it right.
Following the period of public comment, the members of City Council all spoke in support of the ordinance, noting the significance of passing the the legislation during Pride Month and praising Councilwoman Michaela Burriss who spearheaded putting the ordinance together. Burriss was visibly emotional in her response.
“To all of you, thank you for finding points of compromise and getting us to a place where we can comfortably and confidently vote tonight,” said Burriss. “It’s significant. It means a lot.”
The Council voted 6-1 (Kulewicz opposed) to suspend their rules to vote on the ordinance immediately, and 7-0 to approve the ordinance. The legislation will now take effect in 30 days.
The ordinance does include religious exemptions allowing faith-affiliated organizations the right to discriminate if such discrimination “promotes the religious principles or the aims, purposes or fraternal principles for which it is established or maintained.”