House Republicans introduce Ohio version of the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

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COLUMUBS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Lawmakers are proposing legislation in Ohio that would ban schools from teaching about “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” to students kindergarten through third grade.

The bill, HB616, is similar to language used in a Florida measure which came to be known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It is also legislation that has been cropping up in other states.

For students fourth grade and up, the bill would ban education on sexual orientation or gender identity “in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Under the bill, parents could file a complaint with the state board of education against a teacher or school. Teachers would face the threat of losing their license if they were to break this proposed law and schools could lose funding.

The sponsors of the bill, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Rep. Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta), did not respond to a request for comment. When asked if she could talk about the bill after attending a committee hearing, Schmidt said, “No, I’m busy.”

The lawmakers later put out a written statement in which Loychik wrote, “Children deserve a quality education that is fair, unbiased and age appropriate. This legislation promotes free and fair discussion.”

LGBTQ advocates sounded off against the bill just hours after it was introduced.

Kathryn Poe, public policy and communications organizer for Equality Ohio, noted that LGBTQ children are already vulnerable to bullying and mental health issues.

“When we segment children off and tell them that they don’t exist and that they don’t matter, and effectively erase them from the classroom and say that they can’t share their experiences and their home lives in school — we effectively erase them. We alienate an entire group of young people who need our affirmation and support,” said Poe.

national survey on mental health, conducted by The Trevor Project in 2021, found that 42% of LGBTQ people ages 13-24 seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

The survey of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youth also found that those who had access to “spaces that affirmed their sexual orientation and gender identity” reported lower rates of attempting suicide.

Densil Porteous, executive director and CEO of Stonewall Columbus, said it’s important for LGBTQ children to see representation.

“We know that when we see reflections of ourselves in education, in popular culture, that we find a deeper understanding of who we are and what we’re about. And so this bill would, quite frankly, diminish representation within the classroom, diminish representation in terms of conversation around identity,” said Porteous.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) said he had not yet read the bill and added that the topic has not been discussed among House Republican caucus members.

The legislation also revives a previously introduced ban on teaching “critical race theory.”

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association — the state’s largest teachers’ union — echoed the concerns the impact a bill like this would have on young people who identify as LGBTQ.

DiMauro said, if the bill were to pass, teachers might be so “consumed with fear” that it distracts them from performing their job to the best of their ability.

“So constantly looking over one’s shoulder. People having to fear losing their jobs, losing their license, because someone misinterprets something that they’re saying, I think is bad,” DiMauro said.

Cupp said the next step would be to assign the bill to a House committee then find out if there is any further interest in the measure among caucus members.