HRC President on Ohio’s ‘Right to Discriminate’: “We Will Fight This” [INTERVIEW]

The Buckeye Flame spoke with Alphonso David to find out what that fight would look like and what our readers can do to make a difference.

News of Governor Mike DeWine’s signing of a budget that included “Medical Practitioner Conscience” clause—which allows healthcare providers to refuse care if it conflicts with their “moral, ethical, or religious beliefs”—has been widely shared nationally and deemed “the most homophobic law in the country.”

In one response, Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, declared that the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group would do everything within their power “to fight this deeply dangerous provision.”

The Buckeye Flame spoke with David to find out what that fight would look like and what our readers can do to make a difference.

How did you hear about this ‘right to discriminate’ in Ohio?
AD: I was on a call when I learned that this proposal had been not only included, but was retained and signed into the state budget. It was incredibly disappointing. It was disappointing that the state legislature would threaten the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio, many of them LGBTQ, to advance a discriminatory proposal that is completely unnecessary. It strengthened my resolve—and I think the resolve of our organization—to continue fighting back against these types of discriminatory provisions that are being advanced in states all across the country.

A part of our job here is to educate the public, educate elected officials, and work in coalitions with associations and institutions so that we can protect and advance the lives of LGBTQ people. I think we have been doing that in many instances.

But here, the Ohio state legislature just ignored the facts, ignored the law, ignored reality, and instead are advancing a provision that is going to hurt hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio.

What does fighting back look like?
Fighting back means suing in court, holding elected officials accountable at the ballot box, engaging in education and outreach campaigns to make sure that pro-equality voters are aware and informed about what is happening in states, and making sure we are working coalitions to mobilize and fight back against discriminatory practices and provisions that we are seeing advance.

Can you put Ohio more in a national context? With all of the anti-LGBTQ legislation being proposed all over the country, where does Ohio fall in the mix?
What’s happening in Ohio is fairly significant because we have more than 380,000 LGBTQ people in Ohio, which is one of the largest populations of LGBTQ people anywhere in the country. From that perspective, this bill is going to impact hundreds of thousands of people. It’s going to potentially result in denial of medical care to LGBTQ people because medical providers and insurance companies can deny medical services based on some moral, ethical, or religious objection. From that perspective this is significant.

When we look at the landscape throughout the country, we have more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced, and more than 25 that have been signed into law. We have already announced that we are suing in four states—Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas—and we are mobilizing with coalition partners all across the country. We are working with associations like medical associations and sports institutions to that make sure can continue a robust education and outreach campaign to fight against these bills.

But when I take a step back and look at Ohio, I think about the number of people who are impacted—380,000 LGBTQ people—and know this is of significant concern in the overall national landscape.

What can our readers do to make a difference?
They can use their voices and contact their elected officials in Ohio and tell them that this is not ok and that [elected officials] will be held accountable for advancing discriminatory legislation.

What they may hear back is, “We needed to do this. We needed to advance this bill because we needed to protect people who have religious or moral objections to providing services.”

That’s false. We already have conscience protections for healthcare professionals in existing law. Hospitals have policies to accommodate people who have different religious or moral convictions. And those have been on the books for years. There is no reason why the Ohio state legislature should be advancing this bill. If they suggest that they had to do it, I want to make sure that your readers understand that that’s wrong.

Second, they can contact members of Congress and specifically members of the U.S. Senate and tell them that it is important for them to support the Equality Act. [Readers] can use their phones and dial 472472 and they will be connected to their U.S. Senator. The Equality Act is incredibly important because it will provide comprehensive legal protections to LGBTQ people. Some of these bills that we are seeing all across the country will become moot after the Equality Act becomes law.

But we need to make sure that we do both: fight back against anti-discriminatory legislation in the states and also fight to have federal protections advance in the U.S. Senate.

Final question: with so many fires all over the place, how can we keep from burning out? How can we sustain our energy to stay in the fight?
First, we have to read our history books. We should go back and learn—to the extent we haven’t or refresh our memories—about all of the struggles our community has faced over time: all of the battles we have been able to overcome and all of the advocates, the authors, the politicians, and the leaders who have fought battles in the past and won. Whether it be against criminalizing our lives, to legalizing our relationships, to making sure we don’t face barriers in public employment, we have been able to break down barrier after barrier after barrier. We have to go back and make sure we reenergize ourselves using our history as a catalyst.

Second, we have to always make sure that we are taking time to rejuvenate ourselves. For me, it’s working out every single day to prepare for the battle ahead. For others, it’s meditation. For others, it’s spending time with family and friends. For others, it’s volunteering to make sure you’re giving back to the community in your own individual way.

We must not  lose sight of the fact that we have been oppressed for decades and we have always, always overcome challenges. And we will overcome this one. 🔥

Ignite Action:

  • Contact your Ohio State Representatives to make your voice heard. You can go here and enter in your info to find out “Who represents me?” 
  • Dial 472472 to be connected to your U.S. Senator to make your voice heard about the Equality Act.
  • Attend the forum hosted by Equality Ohio on Tuesday, July 13th at noon for a livestream debrief of June and discussion on how Ohioans can prepare for the legislature’s return in the fall. Register:

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