EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is presented in partnership with Freedom for All Americans, which is a valued partner in the fight against anti-LGBTQ discrimination and working toward lived equality for all Ohioans.
On January 31, 2018, Theodore Pavlich woke up later than he would have liked, and tried to steady himself for a long day ahead. Before leaving the house, he changed his shirt three times, just to make sure he looked his best. His friend had kindly offered to make the two-hour drive from Cleveland to Columbus, where state lawmakers were convening for a landmark hearing. Theo thought about the day before him, rehearsing his testimony and thinking hard about how best to communicate the sadness and humiliation that he felt when he faced housing discrimination because of his gender identity.
Théo is a transgender man, and that day he was committed to sharing his story before lawmakers in Ohio, who were considering HB160, a bill to secure comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Ohioans. He sat as person after person stood up, approached the podium, and delivered their testimony in favor of the bill.
Seventeen people, including supportive business owners, social justice advocates, and LGBTQ Ohioans, spoke at the hearing, which was attended by over 200 people and required two overflow rooms to be opened in addition to the main hearing room. Although it was emotionally taxing to speak before the committee, Théo knew it was necessary in order to make sure there is progress for future generations.
“In the days and hours leading up to the hearing, I found myself considering just how much the experience had affected me, the pain it caused. It was difficult to revisit those memories. So many threads of my life connected to that experience and more than one led to further difficulties (or) not all of them led to happy endings. . I thought much about my now-deceased fiancée at the time, about the career I abandoned by leaving school.”
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In Ohio, there are currently no state-level comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Although a bill that would correct this is being considered before the state legislature, in the meantime LGBTQ people can be denied housing, employment, or access to public accommodations simply for being who they are. Unfortunately, Théo was someone directly impacted by such discrimination.
In September 2014, Théo had found an apartment in Cleveland that was the perfect distance from both his college and workplace. An acquaintance of his was already a tenant, so he signed onto the lease and moved in. Shortly thereafter, problems began to arise that Théo had not anticipated.
“Going in, I asked if my landlord wanted to do a background check; he said everything was fine. I moved everything in, and things were going well.”
The peace of living safely in an apartment didn’t last long: A mutual acquaintance told the roommate that Théo is transgender and encouraged the roommate to do an official background check on Théo. When he did, he became uncomfortable, asking Théo many questions about his past – questions that Théo was prepared to answer.
“He asked me if I’d ever had another name, and I answered yes,” Théo said. “The background check revealed my name change, which you can also find by simply Googling me, due to the required steps for a legal name change. But then my roommate started going down all these roads, saying there would be all kinds of problems if my change ‘wasn’t official.’”
Théo took the time to explain to his roommate that he had successfully updated all of his government records and IDs after his transition from female to male. It turned out that Théo’s roommate came from a conservative, religious background and was unfamiliar with what it meant to be transgender. Spooked by his own lack of understanding, the roommate had already talked to the landlord about Théo’s gender identity and they worked together on a plan to evict Théo and his fiancée almost immediately. No state-level law protected Théo from this extreme case of anti-transgender housing discrimination.
“He told me I couldn’t live there [in the apartment] because he wanted a ‘family friendly household.’ I hadn’t broken any part of the lease or done anything wrong. I never even met my landlord – he only communicated with me through my roommate.”
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Having to leave his home left Théo in the lurch as far as his schooling and employment. In the apartment, he had easy access to public transportation that took him to school and work. With all the issues he had encountered in trying to find a home, Théo was forced to move to Geauga County, which is an hour away from Cleveland. “I had to drop out of school because of the distance. My work and school schedules were impossible to balance.”
Théo tried to take action against his landlord, contacting a fair housing organization in Cleveland, However, this became a futile effort.
“I contacted housing advocates about fighting the eviction, but there are no protections statewide for LGBTQ people. I was working full-time for minimum wage, so even with the advocate’s support, I didn’t have the money or resources to invest in a complaint.”
Fortunately, Théo has now found a new home as well as a supportive landlord. He and his dog are grateful to have a safe and stable housing situation after the difficulties of prolonged housing instability.
,“When I think about the idea of moving again, it’s terrifying. I don’t know what another landlord would be like. Being transgender always brings the questions of, ‘Why am I being denied something? Is it specifically because I’m transgender?’ It brings this feeling of being inferior somehow. There’s so much more to every transgender person…I’m trans, but I’m a writer, a Broncos fan, a dog owner; there are so many other facets of who I am.”
At the hearing, what helped put Théo’s experience in perspective was the closing testimony given by a child from northeast Ohio.
“There was a 9-year-old transgender girl that testified after me. I don’t want her to experience the things I’ve experienced when she grows up. To reduce people to just their gender identity is absurd, because there’s so much more beyond that. We’re all so much more. This was why I’ve stayed in Ohio. This is exactly what I’ve been fighting for.”