Equality advocates of the United Church of Christ are hailing the city of Cleveland, home to the denomination’s national offices for more than 25 years, as Cleveland City Council members on Wednesday unanimously passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that protects the rights of the transgender community to use restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity.
The decision came just days ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention, which takes place in Cleveland from July 18-21.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, vice president of the UCC Council for Health and Human Services Ministry and board member of the National LGBTQ Task Force, celebrated the council’s decision. "A lot of brave, committed and persistent activists and community leaders worked many years to build coalitions, change hearts [and] minds, and speak truth to power to finally realize fully inclusive LGBTQ equal rights legislation for this great, on-the-move city," he said. "At the same time the RNC Platform Committee was busy adopting its most anti-LGBTQ platform in history, this was Cleveland's response right across the street at City Hall."
The Republican Party this week adopted numerous anti-LGBTQ provisions in its platform, including one that calls for overturning the landmark 2015 decision by the Supreme Court, recognizing marriage equality in every state. Other provisions include promoting state laws that limit which restrooms transgender people can use, supporting "conversion therapy" for LGBTQ people and stating that a marriage between a man and woman is most likely to result in children who do not become drug addicted.
The Cleveland anti-discrimination ordinance was first introduced in 2013 and had not been publicly heard since November 2014, but last month council president Kevin Kelley announced plans for a vote. Under the new law, transgender people can use facilities consistent with their gender identity in the workplace and public places. Cleveland is one of 100 other U.S. cities that have clear non-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual identity in public accommodations, housing and employment.
City laws already prohibited discrimination in housing and accommodations, such as hotels, but because of exclusions, transgender people continued to face discrimination in access to single-sex facilities such as locker rooms and restrooms.
"A lot of people engaged with city leaders for more than three years," said the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy. "Their hard work, passion and persistence paid off in a unanimous vote. I applaud the action of the City Council, as they have taken an important step toward extravagant welcome and equality. I hope their leadership is contagious across the country, and soon all our communities will be safe for persons of different gender identities and expressions, and everyone else."