University Heights enacts anti-discrimination law
For members of University Heights City Council and Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan, enacting an anti-discrimination law pertaining to sexual orientation wasn’t just important. It was personal.
At the June 1 council meeting, Council Member John Rach said he hopes to see other cities follow the lead of University Heights. “I hope this resonates across the country,” Rach said, “so that I, too, one day can work anywhere in the country and not feel the pressure of one day losing my job because of who I am.
“I can tell you as a gay man, in most places across the country, I can be fired for who I am, and that will not be the case in University Heights with this ordinance.”
UH Ordinance 2020-26 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to equal access to employment, housing, and public accommodations. The ordinance complements a similar law passed by Cuyahoga County in 2019.
Council approved the ordinance 7-0 on June 1, and Brennan signed it into law.
“This is something very important for me,” Brennan said, “because it does affect so many people I do care about. This is a testament to our values. I’m proud of all of council for coming together to sponsor this.”
Before the vote, Council Member Barbara Blankfeld said that, as a proud mother of a gay son, she was proud to vote for the legislation. “It’s important,” Blankfeld said. “It mirrors legislation that already exists. But I am proud to be in a community that will echo it and that will support it.
Brennan told council that things have changed for the better over the decades. He recalled how the federal government turned its back on the gay community when it came to discrimination, and in the 1980s in its lack of response to the AIDS crisis.
“My godfather, David, was gay. He was like a second father to me. He enriched my life,” Brennan said. “It’s not lost on me that when we lost my Uncle David to complications related to HIV in 1994, if this country had been more vigilant in seeking treatment for AIDS, he could be alive today.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him,” Brennan said. “This is for you, David.”
Council Member Justin Gould, who introduced the ordinance, said, “I’m able to serve this community as a proud gay, black man because of sacrifices made by people who look like me who came before me. I am grateful to them for this privilege.
“I am grateful . . . where I am joined unanimously by every member of this council, our Vice Mayor and Mayor in presenting this legislation,” Gould continued. “This legislation extends the message that you are welcome in University Heights, no matter how you worship, or what you look like, or who you love.”
The Human Rights Campaign in Ohio called the new law in University Heights a “huge milestone.” The ordinance also received praise from Equality Ohio.
Through proclamation, Brennan declared June to be Pride Month in University Heights. For the second year in a row, the rainbow flag flew over UH City Hall for the entire month.
“University Heights is a community so many kinds of people can call home,” Brennan said. “And they’re all welcome here.”
Mike Cook is the communications and civic engagement coordinator for University Heights.