It is our responsibility to win for those who come after us the freedom not to have to think about the obstacles of discrimination. To ensure that they will never feel that “my country and my community do not welcome me”.
To make sure they don’t have to realize that “this wasn’t made for me”.
For Ohio’s LGBTQ+ youth – and many others in our community, including people of color, seniors, and transgender and non-binary people – discrimination remains a tangible, daily barrier to pursuing a lives of dignity, opportunity and happiness free from stigma and prejudice that threaten their economic and physical well-being.
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For all of those Ohioans, nearly half a million of our neighbors, the enactment of federal anti-discrimination protections would be a breakthrough in addressing harms, but also in changing expectations – not only about the life we in the LGBTQ+ community can hope to lead, but also about the kind of opportunity society that all of us in Ohio can enjoy.
As a black Jamaican immigrant, the son of a single mother who raised four of us until her death when I was just 14, I faced a lot of discrimination in my youth.
My Pentecostal community told me it was a sin to be gay. My Caribbean family taught me that being sensitive was wrong. Because I didn’t always speak colloquially and applied myself to my schoolwork, some classmates criticized me for “acting blank.”
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But I persevered, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration. My upbringing allowed me to give back to the community, helping others find the happiness that I was able to enjoy.
I’m the executive director of Stonewall Columbus, the capital’s LGBTQ+ center and community organization.
I chaired the Create Columbus Commission, a group of young professionals working to make a difference in our community; served on the board of the Columbus Foundation’s Legacy Fund, an endowment that supports LGBTQ+ organizations and youth in central Ohio; and Vice President of Equitas Health, a nonprofit network serving the LGBTQ+ community statewide.
In 2020, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther appointed me to the commission that established the Columbus Civilian Police Review Board.
With my partner, I am also the father of a 5 year old daughter.
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Our programs at Stonewall Columbus strive to provide our community with the tools to overcome the discrimination they face, which is sometimes subtle, sometimes overt.
People of color as well as transgender people, who may also be economically marginalized, are most affected by overt discrimination. We partner with banks and other organizations to provide them with economic empowerment tools and workplace skills.
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Resources for the transgender community are one of the busiest parts of our website, but the apparent reluctance of many of these online visitors – especially trans women of color – to openly come to our North High Street exemplifies trauma and risk. of danger that many of them endure in their daily lives in all kinds of public spaces.
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From our pioneer community, we often hear about the difficulties they have in finding senior housing opportunities that are proactive in ensuring an assertive and safe environment, and we work to help them make appropriate connections.
Yet it’s clear that senior housing developers in this region have yet to pay enough attention to creating policies and residences that welcome LGBTQ+ seniors. A couple told me that they feared having to lock themselves up to find accommodation.
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The experience of discrimination, of course, is often subjective, but the unspoken ways in which LGBTQ+ people are turned away from opportunities and full access to society have real consequences on their prospects for success and happiness and their expectations for the future.
This, in turn, has many LGBTQ+ Ohioans wondering if they want to continue to call this state home.
The migration of talented and motivated residents to other parts of the country represents a brain drain contrary to the interests of our state.
Columbus and all of Ohio has many advantages to offer – a reasonable cost of living, a well-educated population, and rich cultural resources. But large employers are also interested in public policies and attitudes that welcome diversity and reward merit, regardless of an individual’s identity.
Discrimination protections would help protect LGBTQ+ investment in Ohio and improve the state’s future economic prospects.
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This year, Congress has a real opportunity to pass comprehensive federal legislation. I hope Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman will help lead the way in securing these crucial protections.
Densil Porteous is executive director of Stonewall Columbus, the city’s LGBTQ+ center and community organization.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Opinion: Why would the Equality Act benefit Ohioans?