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Military, breastfeeding status now part of Cincinnati's nondiscrimination ordinance

Rearview shot of a young soldier standing at a military academy and saluting
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Changes to the existing ordinance include familial status, military status and breastfeeding status.

Breastfeeding and military status are now part of Cincinnati's nondiscrimination ordinance thanks to changes approved last week at City Council.

The municipal law previously protected residents from employment and housing discrimination based on things like race, gender and sexual orientation. The changes clarify that gender identity and gender expression are protected classes and require more employers and housing providers to follow the rules.

The changes also add a few new protected categories: familial status, military status and breastfeeding status. Council Member Victoria Parks is one of two authors of the legislation.

"We've all seen stories of mothers being asked to cover up while feeding their child. And for me, this could not come at a better time when we are suffering a lack of formula," Parks said during a May 23 council meeting. "So it's just as simple as feeding your your baby. And mothers should be able to nurse in public without shame or harassment."

Additionally, the change includes more employers and more housing providers that have to follow the nondiscrimination rules. Businesses used to need at least 10 employees, but that changed to four under the new ordinance. And there no longer is a minimum of four housing units to qualify for housing discrimination rules.

"We want to double down on our inclusiveness in the city," co-author and Councilmember Reggie Harris said. "Growth is an important focus for this council and for this mayor. And we know that inclusive cities and states attract and retain brilliant young minds."

Other changes to the nondiscrimination ordinance put Cincinnati in line with state and federal-level protections, says Equality Ohio Executive Director Alana Jochum.

For example, the city's previous ordinance read: "This chapter shall not apply to any religious corporation, organization, or association." The revised language narrows that exception, and exactly mirrors what is in the state's nondiscrimination law: "This chapter does not apply to a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of an individual of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by that religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities."

In other words, churches and other religious centers could still choose to hire only people who share their faith. But if a church or religious group is a "place of public accommodation," they would now be required to follow the nondiscrimination rules.

"What we're essentially saying is that if you serve the public, and you have an event or a space that is open to everyone, that is not exclusive to your membership, then that space and that event is subjected to the nondiscrimination ordinance," Harris said.

That was already the case under Ohio law, but the key difference is that the state does not include sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Updated: May 27, 2022 at 12:28 PM EDT
This story has been updated.
Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.