Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Black, Female and Serving the Public: A Conversation With the Lawmaker Fighting Statehouse Discrimination

Ohio Rep. Emilia Sykes gets stopped by security trying to enter her place of work. She wants others to share their stories of prejudice.

(Facebook/Emilia Sykes)
Despite the fact that all lawmakers at the Ohio statehouse wear the same pin to let people know they are an elected official, that didn’t stop guards from questioning Rep. Emilia Sykes multiple times and searching her bag upon entry. When Sykes finally asked why she was getting stopped and her fellow colleagues were not, she was told it was because “she didn’t look like a legislator.”

“Admittedly if you go through the halls of the statehouse, I don’t look like many of the faces that are up there. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am a legislator,” says Sykes, a 32-year-old black woman.

Sykes knew she couldn’t be the only woman of color subjected to prejudice as an elected official. So she started a hashtag and Twitter account, called We Belong Here, for black female politicians to share their stories of discrimination on the job.

On this episode of "The 23%: Conversations With Women in Government," Sykes discusses the response she's received from that, the complaint she's filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, and the legislation she’s been trying to pass when she’s not getting stopped by statehouse security: civil protections for victims of domestic violence, compensation for people who have been wrongfully convicted and safeguards for Medicaid expansion in the state. 

Listen to the episode below, and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Stitcher. You can also view our archives.


Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
Special Projects