A proposed change to a portion of Bowling Green’s unlawful discrimination ordinance drew support – and some questions – during Monday’s meeting.
Council introduced legislation to amend Section 39.01 of the city’s codified ordinances.
According to the legislative package document prepared for council, Councilman Nick Rubando brought forward the proposed changes, with the description that “the unlawful discrimination protections found in Chapter 39 of BG’s Codified Ordinances protect individuals against discrimination, including in the workplace, business establishments, places of public accommodation, and education institutions. Protected classes include race, ethnicity, religion, age, and sexual orientation, among many others.”
Originally passed in 2009, Chapter 39 currently includes “sex” as a protected class.
The intent of the ordinance on council’s agenda is to add a definition of “sex” that expressly protects people’s reproductive healthcare decisions, gives protections to breastfeeding mothers, as well as pregnant individuals or those seeking to become pregnant. The language also makes express that nothing in the definition of “sex” can be construed to require an employer to provide health insurance benefits for sexual or reproductive health products or services.”
Two residents spoke on the issue during the meeting’s lobby visitation period.
Emily Gerome, who said she is the vice president of the Bowling Green State University College Democrats, told council that the organization recently held a rally for reproductive freedom, which drew approximately 130 students and community members.
“We put on this event to reflect the conversations happening at a national level right now,” Gerome said. She said the inclusive language in the proposed legislation would reflect those conversations and “ensure that the city of Bowling Green is tuned into these conversations… and wants to be a part of this change.
“Defining words like ‘sex’ in our legislation is a way we can create a safe, inclusive, welcoming and secure community for students who may feel left out” because of the situations they’re in, Gerome said.
Holli Gray-Luring said that after the Supreme Court’s decision over the summer in the Dobbs case, she and several other Bowling Green moms protested at the Wood County Courthouse. That group has grown to more than 250 members, she said. Gray-Luring said she subsequently sent emails to some council members and asked them to meet on the issue.
“Possibly tonight, when you hear the introduction of legislation tonight for the ordinance… you can kind of imagine that not only were six moms involved in planting that seed, there’s over 200 members” in the city.
“We just ask that you adopt this new language so we can provide freedom for everybody,” she said.
Later in the meeting, when the ordinance was introduced, Councilman Greg Robinette posed questions about it.
He asked first what problem or shortfall the legislation was trying to fix in the current ordinance.
Referring to those who spoke earlier in the meeting, Runbando said “This was language that they asked for. Obviously, they are not feeling that their rights are being protected” by the current ordinance. Council has the ability to put forth legislation saying they are protected, and “I think that this legislation does exactly that,” he said.
Answering an additional question from Robinette, Rubando noted that the city’s current non-discrimination legislation doesn’t not define the phrase “on the basis of sex.”
Robinette asked if there had been any complaints about the current ordinance since its passage in 2009.
Councilman Joel Odorisio, chair of council’s Community Improvement Committee, which sponsors the legislation, said “the laws perform duties beyond whether or not they get complaints.” He said that during negotiations at BGSU, “we referenced the city’s non-discrimination laws, which were at the time more inclusive than the state laws,” and that the negotiations resulted in getting benefits to same-sex partners before same-sex marriage was legally an option.
“The laws that we have enacted… have benefitted people in this city and workers in this city,” Odorisio said. “This new legislation will have benefits beyond whether there are complaints about the current legislation.”