Some pastors, business owners oppose Cuyahoga County anti-discrimination law

CLEVELAND-- Cuyahoga County Council is working to create a Commission on Human Rights that would provide an appeal process for people discriminated against, specifically the LGBTQ community, when seeking housing, work or public accommodations like in restaurants.

“The State of Ohio does not have protections for the LGBT community and we think in Cuyahoga County it’s really important that we provide protections against discrimination,” explained Sunny Simon, Cuyahoga County Councilmember of District 11.

According to a news release from the county, the “legislation gives residents who feel that they have experienced discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to file a formal complaint which will be heard by a newly established County Commission on Human Rights,” the release explained.

Council President Dan Brady said in an email, “This legislation is fundamentally about ensuring all county residents are able to live their lives free from discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Human Rights Commission will be tasked with implementing the protections provided in this ordinance, without duplicating existing civil rights enforcement efforts at the state and federal level.”

Opponents include several area pastors and restaurant owner Tony George who all spoke during the recent county council meeting. Lakewood Pastor John Lutz says he worries that provisions for transgender people could lead to a safety issue in public places for children.

“They are going to be forced to share a bathroom with a man so there are common sense things that we are really concerned about,” Lutz explained.

Lutz also says he is concerned about the three-member commission that would be appointed by the council and able to give consequences on businesses and other establishments if found in violation.

“It really comes down to one executive director that would have the ability to levy fines against people that disagree with this and it goes against the very fabric of our country,” he said.

Tony George, owner of 37 restaurants and bars in the area, suggested at the meeting that the council put the ordinance to a vote by county citizens. He also said it would cause problems for business owners like him.

“You’re going to have us as bar and restaurant owners go to other counties right across the border because we don’t want to deal with these kind of situations and be liable and to deal with these regulations and rules and laws,” George said at the meeting.

But Councilmember Simon says the City of Cleveland has had these protections for years without issue.

“We’re not putting people in jeopardy or compromising people’s faith; we just want to make sure that we are a place of inclusion and fairness and that justice can prevail in Cuyahoga County,” she said.

Current Inclusion Officer for Cuyahoga County, Luis Cartagena, would serve as the executive director of the commission made up of three appointed, licensed attorneys. If the commission does find that there is discrimination in a situation they may hand down a civil penalty.

According to a release from the county, money collected will go to education and awareness of prejudice, intolerance, bigotry and discrimination.

The Cuyahoga County Council expects to vote on the ordinance creating the commission at its regular meeting on September 25.