Know Your Rights
It is critically important that violence, discrimination, and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity be reported. Contact Equality Cincinnati at 513.591.FAIR (3247) to document these cases. Nearly one-third of gay men and lesbians report that they have experienced discrimination at some time in their lives. Knowing your rights is the first step toward combating unfair treatment in employment, housing, and access to public accommodations (restaurants, bars, hotels, theatres, stores, transportation services, etc.).
Federal civil rights laws do not include sexual orientation or gender identity in the protected categories of gender, race, religion, national origin, age, color, and handicap. The proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) – which would prevent someone from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity – introduced in Congress and endorsed by President Obama, has not yet passed.
There has been some success in preventing discrimination in federal, state, and local governmental agencies based on the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That constitutional protection, however, is difficult to enforce and does not prevent discrimination by non-governmental employers, landlords, or other private individuals or businesses. An attorney would be necessary to evaluate and possibly pursue such a claim.
Employees covered by collective bargaining agreements or employment contracts may also have protection from discrimination under those agreements.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed in 2009, expands the federal hate crimes law to cover crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. It gives the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the ability to investigate hate crimes that the local law enforcement officials choose not to pursue, and provides financial assistance to state and local authorities to help investigate and prosecute hate crimes. The FBI also tracks statistics on hate crimes. If you receive harassing or threatening phone calls or US mail, please contact the FBI in addition to your local police and Equality Cincinnati.
There are no statewide laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana. The proposed Ohio Equal Housing and Employment Act has passed the Ohio House of Representatives, but is stalled in the Ohio Senate.
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear have signed Executive Orders prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity for state government employment.
Kentucky’s hate crimes law covers crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation (but not gender identity). Ohio and Indiana have hate crimes laws, but these laws do not cover crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The City of Cincinnati’s Human Rights Ordinance prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgendered status. This legal protection was the result of work by Equality Cincinnati, following the successful campaign to repeal anti-gay Article XII of the Cincinnati City Charter led by Citizens to Restore Fairness.
The City of Covington’s Human Rights Ordinance prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This legal protection was the result of work by Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance.
If you have been a victim of discrimination (terminated, not promoted, etc.), contact your attorney. Some employers have legally binding policies against discrimination based on sexual orientation You should also contact Equality Cincinnati for information regarding possible assistance to remedy your situation and do document this type of discrimination. Even through there may be no legal protection, there are sometimes ways of establishing positive communication with employers and others in the workplace. It is also important to document such discrimination in order to demonstrate the need for legal protection.
The City of Cincinnati’s Hate Crimes Ordinance also allows stiffened penalties for the misdemeanor crimes of assault, aggravated menacing, menacing, criminal damaging or endangering, criminal mischief, and telephone harassment motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or transgendered status. However, it does not cover felony crimes that are governed by state law.
The Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy law in its ruling in Lawrence vs. Texas, effectively repealing all outstanding state-level laws criminalizing private consensual same-sex behavior.
Ohio’s statute against “importuning” which made it illegal to suggest sexual activity to another person of the same gender without knowing whether it is offensive to the other person was ruled unconstitutional and unenforceable. Persons previously convicted of importuning are encouraged to contact their attorney to determine if the conviction can be expunged. In Kentucky, offering to engage in sex with a person of the same gender, without mention of money, is still illegal.
Soliciting sex for hire, regardless of the gender of either person, is illegal in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Sex, masturbation, or exposure of “private parts” in public under circumstances that may be offensive is also illegal. It is not illegal for gay men or lesbians to kiss, hold hands, or dance together in public.
If you meet someone in a public place (parks, stores, etc.) and they are encouraging you to engage in sexual activity, the safest course is to assume that person is a police officer, even if he says he is not or if he asks you if you are an undercover officer. The officer does not have to identify himself. The safest way to proceed if you meet someone you are interested in is to set up a time to meet later at a safe place. If you or someone you know is arrested for soliciting sex in a public place, contact your attorney as soon as possible. If you go to court before you have spoken to a lawyer, ask the judge for a continuance to give yourself time to contact a lawyer, especially if you believe you have been falsely accused.
If you are attacked: Get medical and police assistance at once – call 911.
File a police report and make certain that you get a copy of that report. If you believe the attack was motivated by your sexual orientation, ask that it be noted on your report. Even if you feel that there is nothing that the police can do, file a report to assist in the accumulation of statistics and the recognition of patterns of violence. If a report was not filed at the time of the incident, go to a police station and file one. Remember the physical description of your attacker(s) – gender, race, height, weight, clothing, and distinguishing characteristics. Write it down as soon as you are able!
Call Equality Cincinnati at 513.591.FAIR (3247). Your incident will be documented as part of the National Anti-Violence Project and your treatment by police and other officials will be monitored. Equality Cincinnati can aid you in finding assistance. You have the right to file a citizen complaint against a police officer if you feel you were disrespectfully treated. Equality Cincinnati continues to work with the Cincinnati Police Department to ensure GLBT persons are treated with the dignity and respect all citizens deserve. All information collected is kept confidential.
To help avoid problems:
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Do not enter into situations that could be dangerous.
- If it feels unsafe, it probably is.
It is critically important that abuse and harassment be reported. Contact Equality Cincinnati to document these cases.
COUPLES AND FAMILIES
The federal Defense of Marriage Act provides that same-gender married couples are not considered married for federal law purposes, and cannot file joint tax returns, receive social security benefits as a surviving spouse, or receive other federal law benefits of marriage. It also provides that states need not recognize a same-gender marriage performed in another state. The denial of federal benefits is currently being challenged in federal court.
The Ohio state constitution limits the definition of marriage to one man and one woman, and prohibits any legal statue intended to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage. The Kentucky state constitution limits the definition of marriage to one man and one woman, and prohibits any legal status identical or substantially similar to marriage. Indiana has a statute that states that any same-gender marriage is void even if valid where solemnized.
This lack of recognition is likely to remain unless the United States Supreme Court were to decide that they are unconstitutional. While Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and Canada allow same-gender marriage, and New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Wisconsin allow civil unions or domestic partnerships, those same-gender marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships will not be recognized by Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana.
However, lesbian and gay couples can build a legal and financial framework to protect our loved ones. In the absence of a will designating a partner as a beneficiary, an unmarried person’s entire estate goes to her or his closest blood relatives upon death. If one is incapacitated, the state grants control of one’s financial and medical affairs to a relative unless financial and medical powers of attorney have been signed.
To prepare a legal will or power of attorney, contact an attorney. In the majority of states in the U.S., gay and lesbian couples cannot adopt as couples. One member of the couple can adopt as a single parent, but the other member will not have legal rights to the child. For couples where one member is the biological or adoptive parent of a child, most states, including Ohio, do not recognize second-parent adoptions (adoptions in which the second parent gains custody rights without the first parent giving up his or her rights), except for adoption by a step-parent legally married to the child’s mother/father. However, two 2002 Ohio Supreme Court cases held that Gay couples may apply to Juvenile Court for a “joint custody order”, which is a document defining each co-parent’s legal right to raise and care for a child.
Gay couples may apply to Probate Court to share the same last name as a family name. Attorneys handling these cases can be found in the “Attorneys” section of the Listings. For information about adoption and custody rights and cases, contact the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco at 415.392.6257.
INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE
As a community, we have a responsibility to confront same-sex intimate partner violence. This violence happens in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender relationships just as it does in heterosexual ones. In fact, intimate partner violence happens to 1 out of 3 LGBT individuals, and up to 49% of LGBTQ youth have experienced teen dating violence.
If someone has the courage to tell of an abusive situation, honor that courage with your support. Believe your friend, tell your friend that it is not her or his fault, and refer your friend to expert resources. Local service providers listed below support the LGBTQ community and will help both women and men.
If your friend is abusing her or his partner, hold the abuser accountable for her or his actions, and direct the abuser to the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati Batterer Intervention Program.
If you are experiencing intimate partner violence and are in immediate danger, call 911.
We also encourage you to call one of the hotlines listed below and receive confidential help. Equality Cincinnati works closely with the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati and Women Helping Women, and can support you in navigating connections with resources. Once you call a hotline, an intake worker will review a personalized safety plan with you, and connect you with appropriate resources (shelter, advocacy, counseling, legal assistance, etc.) Remember, get facts about shelters, laws, and resources before you need them, and establish contacts with trusted friends and/or family so you have a safe place to go in an emergency.
If you need help, the following crisis hotlines have trained staff who are sensitive to issues facing LGBTQ survivors:
- YMCA Project Hotline (Hamilton County) 888.872.9259 TTY 513.977.5545
- YMCA Eastern Area Hotline (Brown and Clermont Counties) 513.753.7281
- Women Helping Women Hotline 513.381.5610 TTY 513.977.5545
- Northern Kentucky Women’s Crisis Center 859.491.3335
This information is provided by Equality Cincinnati and includes content cited by The Kentucky Fairness Alliance and Equality Ohio. Equality Cincinnati gratefully acknowledges the many contributions of Freeman Durham, Jennifer Branch, Scott Knox, and Kristin Shrimplin and countless individuals who assisted with the work of developing this section.