PORTSMOUTH — Pastor Bennie Blevins of the Portsmouth Welcoming Community-Community of Christ has lived in Portsmouth for his whole life. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Blevins posts regularly on his Facebook page in regards to PRIDE history and the fight for equality.
In Monday night’s meeting, Portsmouth City Council adopted an anti-discrimination ordinance with a 5-0 vote. The new chapter, titled “Discrimination Prohibited,” would go into effect immediately and have broad protection for the city’s LGBTQ+ civilians. With its passage, Portsmouth became the 32nd municipality in Ohio to adopt an anti-discrimination ordinance.
Growing up in Portsmouth, Blevins experienced varying instances of homophobic discrimination based on the fact that he is gay. He was shunned by his church as a teenager when he came out and received threats from his co-workers when he worked in a department store. As a pastor of the first church in the area that openly accepts LGBTQ+ individuals, he senses more hope and progress with the new ordinance. His church believes love should not be judged, but rather celebrated.
“We believe that all people, regardless of race, gender, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and faith or no faith are worth respect, love, and acceptance,” said Blevins, who has been with the Community of Christ since 2018. “I think what it says is people are becoming more open-minded and much more accepting.”
Discrimination Prohibited would not be the first anti-discriminatory ordinance for the city. Fair Housing Practices, Chapter 171 of the Portsmouth Code of Ordinances, passed in 1989 and prevents discriminatory housing practices in the “selling, leasing, subleasing, renting, assigning or otherwise transferring of any interest in a housing unit,” or “by refusing to negotiate, making false representations on the availability of the housing unit which is for sale, lease, sublease or rental.”
If a resident believed they had been discriminated against, they were told to report the incident to the Portsmouth Fair Housing Board Committee or to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. With this new chapter, a human rights commission will be created in regards to employment, housing, and accommodation discrimination. The amendment will add to the protections Chapter 171 by adding defense on the basis of sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, and physical characteristics.
“It’s great that Portsmouth is ahead of the curve, in the state of Ohio, when it comes to ensuring people are not discriminated against,” said 1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne. “It’s probably one of the most important pieces of legislation that I’ve been involved with since I started in January 2018.”
Discrimination based on any of the following will be henceforth banned in Portsmouth:
- National origin
- Marital status
- Gender identity or expression
- Sexual orientation
- Physical characteristic
Nationally, the Supreme Court voted in a to prevent employment discrimination for gay, lesbian, and transgender people last month. Although pleased with the decision, Dunne said Portsmouth’s ruling was not influenced by the court. The amendment predates the court’s ruling as it has been on the council’s agenda for the past two to three months, said Dunne. Conversations between council and, a group promoting justice for the LGTBQ+ community, have also been ongoing for over the past year.
Dunne said work needs to be done in regards to how it will be enforced and what will the consequences be for those that do discriminate. As it is worded currently, those found guilty of discriminating would be charged with a third or fourth degree misdemeanor, which could lead to a fine.
Yet, Dunne said the human rights commission would first look to mediate instead of a charge.
“They will first look to mediate between the individuals in conflict and try to come to some form of an understanding,” said Dunne. “We want to go through remediation particularly because some people might not understand that their actions could be perceived as discriminatory and we’re not looking to involve the criminal justice system if it’s not required.
Blevins hopes remediation will lead to a change of heart and mind.
“We are human beings,” said Blevins of the LGBTQ+ community. “There have been so many narratives that are simply based out of fear, a lack of education. People need to at least open their minds and open their hearts and get to know us.”
“In Portsmouth, I think that they are opening their hearts at least to be more accepting, letting someone live their life as long as they are not harming somebody.”
Reach Patrick Keck (614) 949-0629 , by email at firstname.lastname@example.org , or on Twitter @pkeckreporter © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved