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Who is Welcome Here? Does recent proposed legislation contradict Governor Dewine’s family-centered initiatives?

Ohio legislatures made recent headlines by contributing to the record number of proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation nationwide. Proponents of the legislation claim it is focused on protecting children. But, critics warn that the legislation will create an unwelcoming environment for those who are already marginalized and people who care about them.

Republican-led state legislatures across the country, including Ohio, are continuing their efforts to pass legislation that targets the LGBTQ populations in their states. Most of this legislation specifically targets the transgender community. Laws range from prohibiting drag shows, withholding medical care, to forced outing by educators. Lawmakers claim that the legislation is about protecting children and parental rights, however, advocates for these groups warn they could have deadly consequences.

Increased Mental Health Risks in LGBTQ Youth

A 2021 survey found that 52% of teens identifying as LGBTQ+ experienced poor mental health in the past year, with 1 in 5 saying they had attempted suicide during that period of time. A survey by the Trevor Project found that “86% of transgender and nonbinary youth say recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health; as a result of these policies and debates in the last year, 45% of trans youth experienced cyberbullying, and nearly 1 in 3 reported not feeling safe to go to the doctor or hospital when they were sick or injured.”

Medical professionals overwhelmingly agree that bills targeting LGBTQ populations, particularly youth, are extreme and harmful for a multitude of reasons. They believe that decisions connected to sexuality and gender identity should be left to the discretion of children, parents, and medical professionals. 

Parental Concerns

Parents of LGBTQ youth worry about the health and safety of their children, should legislation pass targeting them. Jamie  Bruesehoff, mother of 16 year old transgender activist Rebekah reflects,

“What people don’t understand is that young people are impacted by these messages … They are seeing what’s happening, watching their identity be banned from public conversations in schools,” she says. “People, even in states like New Jersey and New York, know what’s going on. And for a young person to see their identity being debated on every front? That’s exhausting.”

Ohio Legislation Details

Citybeat.com detailed the two proposed controversial pieces of legislation:

HB 6 – Save Women’s Sports Act

HB 6, dubbed the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” would require schools, state institutions of higher education and private colleges to designate separate single-sex teams and sports for each sex and to limit participation on teams:

“No state institution or private college…shall knowingly allow individuals of the male sex to participate on athletic teams or in athletic competitions designated for only participants of the female sex.“ -HB 6

LGBTQ advocates worry that this bill would further marginalize children who already face tremendous adversity and anxiety. Taking away their ability to participate in youth sports would be yet another act of persecution toward these children.

HB 8 – The Parents Bill of Rights

HB 8, dubbed “The Parents Bill of Rights,” would require public schools to adopt a policy on parental notification on student health and well-being and instructional materials with sexually explicit content.

The bill also requires parental notification with regard to a wide range of vaguely defined circumstances, which could be used to target LGBTQ+ students or educational content that includes diverse representations of students, couples, parents and families.

“The policy shall require a school district to…notify a student’s parent of any change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being or the school’s ability to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for the student.” -HB 8

LGBTQ+ advocates have expressed concern that the bill’s language could force teachers and staff to out LGBTQ+ students who confide in them and possibly violate the code of ethics of many school staff.

History of Republican Governor Vetos

In 2022, Republican Governors Spencer Cox of Utah and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed similar legislation, reasoning that research had not demonstrated that transgender kids had undermined fairness in sports. 

“I struggle to understand so much of it and the science is conflicting. When in doubt however, I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion,” Cox wrote in a letter to Utah legislative leaders.

What is the Future of These Bills in Ohio?

While Governor Dewine has said, “Our goal always is for Ohio to be a welcoming state. We want people here. We want it to be an inclusive state. We want it to be a state that reaches out to everybody,” he has not taken a position on the proposed legislation. He has signed what critics called, A Right to Discriminate provision into law into the 2021 budget which allows healthcare providers to refuse care if they feel that care conflicts with their “moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.”

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