Ohio Governor John Kasich’s Parting Gift: Replacing Transgender Protections He Once Took Away

Right before the holidays, Ohio’s Republican governor John Kasich gave trans people a surprise gift.

In an executive order, the former 2016 presidential candidate revised Ohio’s anti-discrimination policy for state employees by adding “gender identity or expression” to the list of protected classes like race, religion, and disability.

But Kasich’s kindness has a twist; he was the one who removed gender identity from the state policy in the first place. When Kasich took office in 2011, trans people were protected by the nondiscrimination policy that had been created by Ohio’s last Democratic governor, Ted Strickland. Removing those protections was one of Kasich’s first steps as governor, a signal to LGBTQ Ohioans that they didn’t exactly have a friend in the office.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Ohio said it had “been working on this for months” along with TransOhio, lobbying the governor’s office for the change. The group noted the impact the new executive order would have on “transgender and genderqueer employees.”

In a statement Wednesday, TransOhio chair James Knapp called it  “an important and historic day” for the community as well as the state.

“Today, our Governor stood up and said that workplace discrimination will not be tolerated in Ohio,” said Knapp. “We are proud to have been a part of this work, and we’re thrilled that state employees will be able to enter 2019 as their authentic selves without fear of unlawful termination.”

The policy does not change the fact, however, that the state of Ohio lags behind when it comes to trans-friendly laws and policies. Ohio is one of only two U.S. states (along with Tennessee) that do not allow transgender people to revise their birth certificates to reflect their current gender. Without an updated birth certificate, a person cannot update their driver’s license or ID; trans Ohioans risk being outed every time someone asks for their ID and sees a sex marker that doesn’t match their gender presentation.

In March, the ACLU and Lambda Legal sued the state over the birth certificate policy, citing a number of concerns ranging from not being able to get a passport, to harassment and violence.

“After I had to show my birth certificate to obtain a job, a colleague threatened to beat me up and I felt I needed to leave for my own safety,” said a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Stacie Ray, in a March statement issued by the ACLU of Ohio. “I deserve to have documents that reflect who I am and don’t put me in harm’s way – the same as anyone would want for themselves and their loved ones.”

As Kasich goes out the door, he will be replaced by governor-elect Mike Dewine, also a Republican.

Dewine is unlikely to be an advocate for LGBTQ rights, having fought against same-sex marriage in the past. Dewine was the state’s attorney general at the time Jim Obergefell filed a lawsuit against Ohio for the right to marry his dying husband John Arthur. And in 2015 Dewine argued in the Supreme Court that Ohio should be allowed to continue to ban marriage for same-sex couples — a fight he lost.

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