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Ohio State Rep Was Twice Denied Entry Into Statehouse Because She Doesn’t ‘Look Like a Legislator’

Rep. Emilia Sykes

Rep. Emilia Sykes said she believes the encounters had to do with race, saying other Black female lawmakers have faced similar discriminatory treatment. (Image courtesy of the Ohio House of Representatives)

A Black Ohio lawmaker said she’s had issues on several occasions getting into the state courthouse and was even once told by security that she “… didn’t look like a legislator.”

State Rep. Emilia Sykes, 32, said she was walking to work with her colleague one morning last year when she was stopped by officers, who said they needed to search her bag. Her colleague, a 65-year-old white man who’s served on the legislature for many years, wasn’t stopped or searched, however.

Speaking with the Cincinnati Enquirer, Sykes said she questioned why her bag needed to be checked when protocol only required lawmakers to show their IDs to gain entry to the state courthouse. Her colleague jumped to her defense, telling the trooper Sykes was a member of the Ohio House.

“You don’t look like a legislator,” the officer told Sykes, who’s serving her third year as a Democratic representative for Akron. The officer then clarified by saying, “…you look too young.”

After several minutes, the Black lawmaker was eventually let in.

Sykes ran into a similar issue last Wednesday, when she was denied entry into the nearby Riffe Center, which houses several of the lawmakers’ offices, the Enquirer reported. Sykes said she was headed to her office, and got in line to show her badge to enter the building. She said the badge, which features an image of the statehouse to signify authorization to get into the government building, was clearly displayed and hooked on her bag.

She was still hassled by security, however.

As she passed through the line, Sykes said she flashed her badge twice, but the officers claimed they couldn’t see it. She flipped it around and proceeded through the line. That’s when the lawmaker said a security guard followed her down the hall toward the elevator, prompting her to confront him and ask, “What else do you want from me? I showed it to you twice.”

The security guard eventually walked off.

“[It] just seems odd that, even after that, plus the badge, plus the [lapel] pin … it’s still not enough to get into your workplace,” Sykes told ABC News, calling the latest incident with security “inappropriate.”

Skyes’ tweets about the encounter were in response to her friend Jeniece Brock, who expressed “shame” at the fact the lawmaker was denied entry into the statehouse building yet again.

Sykes told ABC News she believes both encounters had to do with her race, saying several other Black female lawmakers have experienced similar issues while their white colleagues have not. In once case, Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Roselawn) forgot her badge in her office and sent an aide to retrieve it. The aide ran the badge down to her but security guards still questioned if it belonged to her — despite Reece’s photo being on it.

“I’m hopeful that these are isolated incidents that can be corrected and never happen again,” Reece said.

As for Sykes, she met with a representative for the Ohio State Highway Patrol (which oversees statehouse security) last Thursday, who apologized and explained the officer she’d encountered was new on the job and didn’t want her wandering in a particular part of the building, ABC News reported.

House spokesman Brad Miller said the interim speaker of the Ohio House would follow up with Sykes at a later date, saying the incidents would be “taken very seriously.”

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