The unanimous approval of a transgender protections law in Cleveland on Monday was an unexpected victory for gay activists working for its passage.

The law bans discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of gender identity. Cleveland's anti-discrimination law already includes sexual orientation, age, race and religion. A last-minute amendment excludes shared showers, locker rooms and restrooms.

Fears that the legislation was about to fail were proven unfounded when the entire slate of 21 council members voted in favor of the legislation.

David Caldwell, spokesman for the Cleveland-based gay rights group Ask Cleveland, told On Top Magazine last month that he believed the bill still faced an uphill battle. “We're working hard to earn the votes necessary to ensure victory,” he said. Going into the vote, activists said they expected the bill to be approved narrowly, but remained uncertain.

The legislation was sponsored by outgoing Council member Joe Santiago, who introduced the bill in August. Santiago, who is openly gay, lost his bid for a second term in September.

As lawmakers considered a gay-inclusive domestic partnership registry in the spring, several council members were targeted by opponents of gay rights. A group of mostly Black ministers rallied against the bill, saying it resembled gay marriage, and threatened to unseat members who favored it. The bill eventually cleared the chamber and Mayor Frank Jackson signed it into law, but the chamber split mostly along racial lines, with only 2 out of 10 African-American members voting in favor of passage.

Gay activists lobbied dissenters of the gay partnership bill; Ask Cleveland delivered more than 2,500 postcards urging council members to approve the bill and join 6 other Ohio cities that have enacted such protections. But the fear that Monday's vote would once again fracture mostly along racial lines remained.

“It's … in the African-American community, where our work had the biggest impact,” said Caldwell. “We spoke with over a thousand supportive African-American voters, who helped us dispel the myth that African-Americans don't support equal rights for the LGBT community – and helped us win the votes of their representatives.”

Caldwell called the vote a “game changer” for gay rights in the city.