The issue is simply this: what does the Columbus community want to stand for?
Does it want to stand for intolerance and prejudice?
Does it want to be known as unwelcoming and hostile?
No, it shouldn’t. It can’t. That would be wrong.
Columbus leaders have fought for inclusiveness for decades, and that mission must continue. Fortunately, actions taken by the Columbus Human Rights Commission, the Columbus City Council and Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Board show that there are still people willing to fight for equality and people’s rights.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Columbus-based Cummins Inc. under the leadership of J. Irwin Miller started a recruiting program that sought to bring young, creative people to the community. Some of the new hires were women, blacks and other minorities, and they faced opposition within the community. Some landlords said they wouldn’t rent to blacks. Some restaurants said they wouldn’t serve blacks.
Think about that in today’s times and you know that such prejudice is wrong. But it took people such as Miller and former First Presbyterian Church pastor the Rev. William Laws to break down those barriers.
The fight for inclusiveness and equality has shifted in focus today, but its importance remains the same.
Rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are at the forefront now. They, too, have been the target of prejudice and discrimination. That is wrong.
Members of the LGBT community are human beings like everyone else and should be respected as such. They deserve the same human rights. City and school leaders obviously agree.
Last fall, the Columbus City Council, on the recommendation of the Columbus Human Rights Commission, amended the city’s human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation, gender identity, age and veteran status as protected classes.
On May 23, the school board approved changes to the district’s equal opportunity policies to include gender identity in a list of protected classes under sex, which is its own protected class.
The policy change was done to keep up with current terminology used to discuss LGBT issues, the school board said. The city’s amendment of its human rights ordinance set a precedent for the school district — which actually had first approved protections based on sexual orientation and transgender status in 2013.
Opponents to last week’s policy change assailed school leaders, essentially claiming that the change would create open season for boys to enter girls restrooms and locker rooms and harass them.
What opponents tended to overlook was that the school district has had in place a legal process to deal with this issue. Some students have already been permitted to use restrooms that do not align with their biological gender, and no reports of harassment have arisen.
We commend the school board and school leaders for taking the stand to ensure protections for transgender students, and commend city leaders for strengthening the local human rights ordinance. They set a great example for what Columbus should be, and continue the tradition that Miller, Laws and other city leaders set for inclusiveness.