By Doug Livingston
Beacon Journal staff writer
Pam Nash worked at a bank and a bakery growing up in Massachusetts.
“It’s not like I don’t have experience, not only in the quick-sale bakery stores but also a Sam’s Club doing this work,” said Nash of the missed job opportunities since moving to Akron in 2004.
It wasn’t for lack of trying or qualifications. More likely, it was listing Pam Nash (a name a reporter was given permission to use) as a prior alias on job applications that always seemed to be a sticking point.
See, Pam Nash was an East Coast woman, according to a birth certificate. Jacob Nash, with a chest-length beard, is a Midwest man. And employers didn’t want that greeting customers.
Nash is among the most vulnerable in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. And until Akron passed an anti-discrimination ordinance on Monday that was signed by Mayor Dan Horrigan on Wednesday, he had no legal recourse when denied access to bathrooms or jobs because he identifies as a transgender man.
The Akron Civil Rights Commission and related anti-discrimination law are being celebrated by Nash and others who now have somewhere to complain about being denied housing, employment and more. But hearing such complaints, otherwise ignored by state and federal law, has also drawn the ire of some who feel society is again moving too fast.
“There are men who have vaginas and women who have penises, and that’s OK with me,” said Nash, sitting on his porch in Akron’s Kenmore neighborhood Wednesday. “But we live in a society where it’s not.”
A stack of lumber for home renovations sat on his right. Three dogs he and his wife of 18 years rescued from the pound licked his face. Nash began his gender transition in 1998. After 20 years of hormonal supplements, he sees in the mirror how he’s always felt.
He moved to Ohio in 1999 to marry his wife, Erin, a self-identified lesbian. They met online in a Christian chat room back in the days of dial-up modems.
It’s Erin who has supported Jacob financially as he struggled to get hired. “She continues to work,” he said. “Even so, the fear of someone finding out that her husband was transgender and being fired because of me is a huge weight to carry around.”
Now 52, Nash played guitar in a Christian band before he developed arthritis in his hands.
“For me, my faith is the most important thing I have in my life, for Erin, too,” he said. “And I would let no one take that from me. God loves me, and I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
He changed his birth certificate to match his gender, something you can do in Massachusetts but not Ohio. Then he corrected his driver’s license and is updating his passport. When he proved he was a man, he married Erin in Ohio.
Without a job, Nash launched a consultancy firm to educate companies and schools on transgender issues. He now facilitates LGBT support groups in Akron. An advocate for transgender issues, he recalls challenging an anti-discrimination law passed by Cleveland City Council in 2009 that failed to cover transgender people until last year.
“If you don’t laugh about it, you’re going to cry,” he said of standing in Cleveland City Hall. “Here I am, a man with a beard being told by a councilman with a mustache to use the women’s restroom or go to jail,” he said.
A growing body of research is benchmarking the mistreatment of the LGBT community. And reports on transgender people are particularly troubling.
The National Center for Transgender Equality released in December the U.S. Transgender Survey. Of the 27,715 people living in America or its territories who participated in the anonymous, online survey in 2015:
•?30 percent reported being fired or denied a promotion due to their gender expression or identification.
•?In all, 46 percent reported verbal harassment; 47 percent had been sexually assaulted; and 40 percent attempted suicide.
•?In school, 54 percent reported abuse after coming out; 24 percent were attacked; and 13 percent sexually assaulted.
10 percent who came out had a family member act violently toward them and 8 percent were kicked out of home.
A study released in January by the Housing Research & Advocacy Center showed housing discrimination for the entire LGBT community.
To determine the level of discrimination, researchers sent participants to talk with landlords or real estate agents — claiming the same income but only sometimes identifying as LGBT.
The “LGBT applicants” faced discrimination 35.3 percent of the time based on sexual orientation and 32.1 percent of the time based on gender identity.
Half the documented housing discrimination occurred in Cuyahoga County municipalities where local laws have been passed to protect these consumers, “suggesting that the local awareness and enforcement of these laws is weak,” the authors of the study wrote.
A previous housing study released in 2013 by Fair Housing Contact Services found similar results in Akron. Couples identifying as straight or same-sex contacted landlords by email, phone, and in person. Two in 5 requests by same-sex couples resulted in “additional background checks, fewer units made available to see and less favorable or fewer appointment options to view the unit.”
Critics of protecting people based on sexual orientation and gender say if it hasn’t been documented, it doesn’t exist.
“The gay class can’t show that,” said Curtis Wells, a local man who called the Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com to protest coverage of the newly formed Akron Civil Rights Commission.
Wells spoke of racial injustice ignored in the city and claimed the new anti-discrimination law “is coming from the corporate sector.”
He expressed that the “immutable” skin color of people oppressed in the past is more reliable than “behavior” in determining who the government should protect.
“[And] there’s a difference between homosexuality and LGBT. The LGBT is a political movement,” Wells said. “Homosexuality is a behavior.”
Rebecca Callahan, executive director of the Community Aids Network/Akron Pride Initiative (CANAPI) in Highland Square, said the notion that being gay is an adjustable behavior, or a behavior at all, comes from a lack of understanding and exposure.
“Just because someone doesn’t have someone who belongs to the LGBT community, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist or that they are not discriminated against,” she said. “And as far as sexual preferences versus sexual orientation, the thing I like to ask people is ‘when did you decide you were straight?’?”
No way to report
There’s a simple explanation for the lack of recorded discrimination.
“It’s very hard to document something when folks don’t have a way of reporting it,” said Lauren Green-Hull, director of Fair Housing Contact Service.
The small nonprofit advises people who call to complain about being evicted or denied housing for various reasons, including race, gender, disability status and more.
Until Akron passed the citywide anti-discrimination ordinance, there was no legal recourse for those mistreated because of sexual orientation or identity.
A 2012 U.S. Department of housing and Urban Development rule made it clear that lenders, borrowers and managers of federally subsidized housing could not discriminate if LGBT applicants refused to conform to gender stereotypes. HUD’s rule does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, though a case could be made on the nonconformity-to-gender-roles clause.
Still, the Ohio Civil Right Commission does not acknowledge housing discrimination cases based on characteristics unique to the LGBT community.
Between 2014 and 2016, Green-Hull said, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission heard 60 housing cases originating in Akron. In that time, her agency received 755 complaints. Some received advice. Others were logged in the agency’s system after deciding they might be eligible for legal representation due to mistreatment because of race, sex, religion, disability or another protected trait.
Complaints received based on LGBT status went nowhere.
Callahan, executive director of the AIDS awareness service organization, said she gets a couple calls a month from LGBT members on “custody issues or housing or employment or just fear of being discriminated against and not necessarily being discriminated against. And that’s just because they know about CANAPI. How many people don’t know about CANAPI?”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug .