COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio legislators are proposing several laws impacting the LGBTQ+ community, contributing to hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in statehouses nationwide in 2023.

Buckeye State lawmakers are advancing four anti-LGBTQ+ bills so far this legislative session, among more than 725 proposed laws moving through statehouses across the nation, according to a report from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP). The legislation continues an unprecedented wave of bills targeting LGBTQ+ people after 268 bills were introduced in 2021 and 315 in 2022.

“The past three years have brought a dramatic — and still ongoing — escalation of attacks on LGBTQ people across virtually every aspect of [their] lives,” MAP’s report states.

The proposed legislation is an effort to expand the scope of targeting against the LGBTQ+ community beyond previous narrowly focused actions like opposing same-sex marriage, MAP states. The organization claims the current landscape “is a war against LGBTQ people in America and their very right and ability to openly exist.”

Trans athlete, healthcare ban

In Ohio, the House of Representatives passed a bill in June to ban healthcare professionals from providing treatment known as gender-affirming care to trans children in the state, and requires mental health professionals to screen patients for abuse and comorbidities before diagnosing gender dysphoria.

“What we’re just simply saying is, let kids grow up,” said Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery), who reintroduced the bill in February after the legislation failed to pass Ohio’s General Assembly last year. “Children are incapable of providing the informed consent necessary to make those very risky and life-changing decisions.”

The Ohio Children’s Hospital Association previously called the bill a “misguided effort” that could exacerbate harm to LGBTQ+ youth. Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other major medical providers have said gender-affirming care is an evidence-based practice with a proven track record of improving health outcomes for trans youth.

Representatives amended the legislation to include House Bill 6, named the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” The bill would bar trans girls from taking part in female athletics and override the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s trans student-athlete policy adopted during the 2015-16 school year.

Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) and 30 Republican co-sponsors reintroduced the bill in February after the legislation also failed to pass Ohio’s General Assembly last year. Powell said 21 other states have passed a similar bill and argues the legislation will facilitate fair competition.

“All that girls are asking for is a fair shot, and to be given the chance to play and win by the rules in the sports that they love,” Powell said. “That opportunity is being ripped from them by biological males.”

The legislation allows an athlete to sue for relief or damages if they are “deprived” of an athletic opportunity by a trans girl, and prohibits a government or athletic association from taking action against schools that enforce the ban.

However, Rep. Anita Somani (D-Dublin) said the legislation furthers misinformation regarding gender-affirming care and will ostracize trans youth. Somani also noted a similar Arkansas law banning trans healthcare was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge

“Trans women who are on estrogen, their testosterone levels drop within six months,” Somani said. “It is not an absolute that trans women will always beat cisgender women. That’s a misconception.” 

Parents’ Bill of Rights

The “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” also passed by the Ohio House, would require teachers to notify parents before teaching “sexuality content” and of any change in a student’s mental, emotional or physical health. Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) and Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton) reintroduced the bill earlier this year after that legislation also failed to pass Ohio’s General Assembly last year.

“The Parents’ Bill of Rights is about informing parents that, yes, you get to know more about your child’s learning, and we are not keeping you out,” Carruthers said before the bill passed. “Many parents right now feel unwelcomed and disenfranchised and that is what the bill is targeting.”

Lawmakers altered the legislation to swap the term “sexually explicit content” in the bill to “sexuality content,” defined as “any oral or written instruction, presentation, image or description of sexual concepts or gender ideology.” The bill also requires schools to inform parents of a student’s request “to identify as a gender that does not align with the student’s biological sex.”

“HB 8 is a hateful attack on Ohio’s teachers and our children, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community,” Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) said. “My colleagues have introduced a piece of legislation that they believe will stop teachers from saying gay in classrooms and force educators to out their students.” 

The legislation would provide parents the opportunity to request excusal for their child from lessons, and parents whose concerns aren’t resolved after 30 days would be granted a hearing with the district’s board of education.

Trans bathroom ban

A bill banning trans students from using a restroom aligned with their gender identity at schools and universities has also been proposed. The bill would prohibit schools from allowing trans students to use a bathroom that doesn’t correspond with the gender assigned to them at birth. The bill states institutions are required to set separate facilities based on a student’s “biological sex,” meaning “the sex listed on a person’s official birth record.”

“No school shall permit a member of the female biological sex to use a student restroom, locker room, changing room, or shower room that has been designated by the school for the exclusive use of the male biological sex,” the bill states. 

Rep. Beth Lear (R-Galena) and Rep. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) introduced the bill at the Statehouse with 19 Republican co-sponsors. Bird said he has heard from constituents requesting a bill like HB 183.

“We want to provide safety for our daughters, our granddaughters here in Ohio,” he said. “When someone walks into a bathroom, they expect it to be a place of safety and not worrying about whether a man is walking into that restroom.”

HB 183 also prohibits schools from letting students share overnight accommodations with students of the opposite “biological sex.” Institutions would still be allowed to offer single-use facilities and the bill would not apply to children under 10 being assisted by a family member, or to someone helping a student with a disability.

“There are students in Ohio who are afraid to speak out,” Bird said. “They feel intimidated that if they object to men or boys in the girls’ restroom, that if they say something then they’ll be canceled, they’ll be criticized.”

However, Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) said he has not heard of a single incident across Ohio where students are concerned or are complaining about the issue.

“For the first time in Ohio history, our population decreased, people are moving out of the state and I think it’s a direct reflection of the policies we’re pushing here,” Weinstein said.

Drag queen ban introduced

Most recently, lawmakers proposed a bill similar to an unconstitutional Tennessee law to prohibit drag queens’ performances in public or where children are present.

Introduced in July, the bill bans “adult cabaret performances,” defined as a show “harmful to juveniles” that features “entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different from the performers’ or entertainers’ gender assigned at birth.” The bill would prohibit these shows in all locations other than “adult cabarets,” meaning “a nightclub, bar, juice bar, restaurant, bottle club or similar establishment.”

Reps. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) and Angela King (R-Celina) are proposing the bill with the support of 41 out of 67 Ohio House Republican representatives. The 43 lawmakers outline the following penalties if entertainers are found violating the proposed law:

  • A misdemeanor of the first degree if a performance occurs in the presence of a juvenile under the age of 18.
  • A felony of the fifth degree if the performance is “obscene.”
  • A felony of the fourth degree if the performance is “obscene” and occurs in the presence of a juvenile under the age of 13.

Williams said the bill’s intention is to modernize Ohio’s revised code regarding obscenity viewed by minors, not to effectively ban drag in Ohio. The lawmaker stressed that the proposed measure only means to prohibit shows “harmful to juveniles,” with events like drag story time readings and plays like “Mrs. Doubtfire” covered under the First Amendment.

“We’re saying, look, we want equality for all, we want everyone to be treated equally in the state of Ohio, that includes our entertainers,” he said. “You’re going to be held to the same standard, which is don’t engage in obscene conduct in the presence of a minor.”