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Published: Sunday, 5/21/2006

Another failing grade

If for no other reason than economic, state lawmakers in Columbus would be wise to examine a recent bias study that ranks Ohio dead last in the nation for tolerance toward certain minority groups.

To dismiss a report that puts the state below even Mississippi in anti-discrimination laws simply because it was done by an advocacy group for the gay community is shortsighted folly.

To learn from the data compiled by Equality Ohio is to understand, the group says, why there has been an exodus of 18-to-34-year-olds from the state, with serious economic repercussions.

They get the message that Ohio is intolerant - real or perceived - of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, and are choosing to live and work and raise their families elsewhere.

The laws of all 50 states dealing with discrimination, hate crimes, adoption, defense of marriage, and school bullying were examined in the study.

States were rated based on protections afforded the gay community. Ohio was the only state to score a minus 2, lower than Mississippi at zero.

That's pathetic. The report noted Ohio's lack of laws prohibiting discrimination and hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was another strike against the state.

Other legislative efforts against gays, including restrictive adoption measures, also contributed to Ohio's low standing in the bias study.

Lynne Bowman, executive director of Equality Ohio, said the results of the report were astonishing to members themselves. "The state that used to be so proud to call itself 'the heart of it all' has lost its heart," she said.

At a conference called by the group that drew more than 500 activists to the state capital, Cleveland attorney Tim Downing bemoaned the fact that in the current political atmosphere, "getting any legislation passed to move Ohio up in the scale of equality is unrealistic."

The member of the national board of directors for the Human Rights Campaign said better working relationships with lawmakers might help stop the use of the gay and lesbian community as scapegoats.

If for no other reason than economic, Ohio must change the image of narrow-mindedness it is presenting to young people deciding whether to invest their futures in the state.

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