COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio lawmakers are among a string of state legislators nationwide proposing anti-LGBTQ+ laws in 2023, breaking the record for the most bills introduced in a single year impacting the minority community.

The Buckeye State is one of nearly two dozen introducing at least 340 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in statehouses across the nation, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The legislation continues an unprecedented wave of bills targeting LGBTQ+ people after 268 bills were introduced in 2021 and 315 in 2022. 

“The fact that we have to count is simply problematic in it of itself,” said Densil Porteous, executive director of Stonewall Columbus. “To know there is a measure of a milestone – to say that we surpassed 340, almost 350, which is far more than we concluded with last year – is truly devastating.”

‘A war against LGBTQ people’

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, according to a new report from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP). The organization claims the current landscape “is a war against LGBTQ people in America and their very right and ability to openly exist.”

Of the 340 bills, 150 target the trans community with 90 preventing trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care. Bills reshaping how students learn about the LGBTQ+ community in schools and bans on LGBTQ+ books in school libraries round out the catalog. 

MAP’s report notes only 27 of the bills introduced in 2021 and 29 in 2022 became law. Still, the organization said the increased proposals reflect an emerging trend of an anti-LGBTQ+ bill advancing in one state followed by copycat bills appearing in other states.

“In 2019, not a single state had a law banning trans youth from participating on sports teams with their peers. In 2020, Idaho became the first state to pass such a law, and in 2021, another nine states followed suit,” the report states. “Now, in early 2023, there are a total of 18 states that have passed laws banning youth from playing sports consistent with their gender identity.”

In addition, a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth in Arkansas and the dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida have also prompted states to follow suit. Data shows these bills could be emboldening groups targeting LGBTQ+ people as anti-LGBTQ+ incidents more than tripled from 64 events in 2021 to nearly 200 in 2022.

The domino effect in Ohio

The trend can be observed in Ohio as several anti-LGBTQ+ bills modeled after legislation from other states moved through the statehouse last general assembly. 

A “divisive concepts” bill modeled after Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law was introduced in April, a bill banning various medical procedures for trans or non-binary minors was introduced in May, and a bill banning trans athletes from participating in sports was introduced in June. Ohio lawmakers are now reintroducing two of these bills as part of the new legislative session. 

“The reality is, the momentum for such anti-LGBTQ legislation picked up in great speed last year,” Porteous said. “I didn’t see it falling down as we entered this year, as we start to gear up for an election season and cycle, and folks use this polarizing topic to share up votes.” 

Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) and 30 Republican co-sponsors have reintroduced the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” banning transgender girls from participating in female sports. The act requires schools and universities to “designate separate single-sex teams and sports for each sex” and prohibits anyone “of the male sex” to participate in any women’s school sports. 

“There are 18 states that have passed similar legislation and we’ve been able to work off some of the language that’s been adopted there,” said Ohio Speaker of the House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill). 

Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) has reintroduced the “Saving Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” barring healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming treatment, like hormone replacement therapy and reconstructive surgery, to trans and gender non-conforming kids in Ohio. 

“[Kids] don’t deserve to be pushed into some of these things when they are not able to provide informed consent,” Click said.

Porteous said the continuous introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ bills is likely swaying families living in Ohio and those moving to the Buckeye State as global companies like Intel announce billion dollar investments in central Ohio. 

“I can’t believe that [Ohio] would purport to be a very welcoming place if [families] are seeing legislation that is directly against who they are as young people, as families,” Porteous said. “I would surely imagine that it’s probably, in this particular day and age, keeping people from moving here.”

Learn more and view MAP’s entire report here.