With more than 200 advocates wanting to testify in favor of the Ohio Fairness Act, the state’s House of Representatives last week chose to cap a Civil Justice Committee hearing with testimony from two REALTORS®: 2014 National Association of REALTORS® President Steve Brown, ABR, CRS, and 2019 Ohio REALTORS® President Anjanette “AJ” Frye, ABR, CIPS, both from Dayton.
The bill would prohibit discrimination in the state of Ohio on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, including in the housing arena. For Brown and Frye, advocating for the bill is more than just a personal statement. “The driving reason for me to be willing to stand up and testify is that it’s one of the tenets of the Code of Ethics,” says Brown, citing the passage in the Code’s preamble that calls on REALTORS® to “identify and take steps, through enforcement of this Code of Ethics and by assisting appropriate regulatory bodies, to eliminate practices which may damage the public or which might discredit or bring dishonor to the real estate profession.”
“There comes a time you have to take a stand and do what the Code requires us to do,” Brown says.
The Sting of Discrimination
But personal experience also plays a role for both Brown and Frye in securing protections for the LGBTQ community.
“When my wife and I were buying our forever home with our daughter, we viewed a house where the seller asked my daughter, ‘Where’s your father?’” recalls Frye, a second-generation real estate broker. The little girl, then 8 years old, pointed to Frye. “The seller then proceeded to say, in front of my daughter, that my wife was too pretty to not be with a man—and that the neighborhood ‘doesn’t have any others like you.’”
Frye says her daughter, nonplussed, told the seller: “Oh no, my parents like to plant flowers in the summer and decorate our house for Christmas. Don’t other parents here do that?”
“When AJ told that story ... if you have ever experienced discrimination, it’s something you will never forget,” Brown says. He recalls his parents looking for a home in Dayton when he was around 10 years old and being told by a seller, “we don’t allow Jews here.”
“We aren’t Jewish, but they thought we were,” he says. “It’s not subtle. It’s generally pretty blatant, and it goes against the grain of everything we believe in.”
Long Road to Equal Opportunity
Currently, 21 states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. NAR has long advocated for those protections to be added to the federal Fair Housing Act. NAR’s Code of Ethics has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 2011 and on the basis of gender identity since 2014. “This is a great example of how our industry touches the public and serves as a watchdog for fairness,” Brown says.
The Ohio bill is likely to stall this year because of the 2020 election, but Brown says last week’s hearing “sets the stage for successful passage next year.”