COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — LGBTQ+ advocates told NBC4 Ohio lawmakers could be trying to “divide attention” after hearings for two anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed at the Statehouse were twice scheduled at the same time. 

House Bill 6, banning transgender girls from taking part in female sports, and House Bill 68, barring gender-affirming care for children, both received hearings on April 19 and on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. in separate committees. The simultaneous scheduling created a challenge for LGBTQ+ Ohioans and allies who wanted to attend both. 

“I think part of the tactic is to have both committees happening to try to divide attention so that it doesn’t look like one hearing room is totally packed,” said Mallory Golski, the civic engagement and advocacy manager for Kaleidoscope Youth Center, who testified against HB 6 last week. “They’re trying to divide the people who are interested in these bills.” 

However, Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery), the sponsor of HB 68, told NBC4 he does not play a role in the process and learns of the committee hearing schedule each week at the same time as the public. Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum), the sponsor of HB 6, did not respond to request for comment. 

“Strategically, Rep. Click does not feel that the simultaneous hearings provide a significant advantage because they pull supporting members from the committee away from HB 68 and into other hearings,” said Click’s office in a written statement.

Organizing productive advocacy 

Maria Bruno, public policy director for Equality Ohio who testified against HB 6 on Wednesday, echoed Golski’s concern and said the committees’ coinciding schedules “doesn’t feel accidental.” Bruno said trans Ohioans should have the opportunity to observe both hearings and not have to pick, given the impact the bills could have if signed into law. 

Rhea Debussy, director of external affairs at Equitas Health who testified against HB 6 last week, also said the hearing schedule created challenges for her team. To organize their efforts, Equitas Health, Equality Ohio and Kaleidoscope all had advocates monitoring both hearings. 

“It’s obviously not possible to be in two places at once, so it’s been definitely challenging,” Debussy said. “So, what my team has been doing is making sure that we’re still having people at both hearings, making sure that we have someone monitoring what’s happening.” 

However, all three advocates told NBC4 they advised community members and allies to skip attending Wednesday’s HB 68 hearing in person as only supporters of the legislation were permitted to speak, with a hearing for those to speak against the bill to be scheduled later. 

The decision was also made to protect the trans community from having to listen to “misinformation and harmful rhetoric,” Bruno explained. For example, a proponent of HB 68 falsely testified on Wednesday that gender-affirming care is “experimental.” Every leading medical association in the U.S. affirms trans healthcare is an evidence-based practice with a proven track record of improving health outcomes for trans youth. 

“When we are dealing with an onslaught of attacks the way that we have been for the last few years, people can only take so many days off work and they can only, you know, observe so many people dehumanizing them,” Bruno said. “So, we are focusing our energy and our advocacy in a way that’s productive.” 

Instead, all three organizations focused their energy this week on the hearing for HB 6, which was dedicated time for those against the bill to speak for the lawmakers. The advocates said they wanted to offer support to the LGBTQ+ youth who skipped school to testify. 

Research from The Trevor Project shows LGBTQ+ youth people need support from adults given the political climate and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation proposed in statehouses nationwide. Nearly 94% of trans youth said that they worry about being denied access to healthcare due to state laws, and 83% said they worry about being denied the ability to play sports. 

“Our priority is to support those who are there speaking in opposition to the bills, to make sure they’re taken care of because it can be very mentally taxing to be there,” Golski said. “Especially young people, to have to be up there defending their rights.” 

What impact would HB 6 have on Ohio’s LGBTQ+ community? 

HB 6, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” would bar trans athletes from taking part in school sports aligned with their gender identity. Powell and 30 Republican co-sponsors reintroduced the bill in February after the legislation failed to pass Ohio’s General Assembly last year. Powell said 18 other states have passed a similar bill and argues the legislation will facilitate fair competition.

“We cannot allow girls’ dreams of being a gold medal athlete to be crushed by biological males stealing their opportunities,” Powell said in a statement.

The bill also overrides the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s trans student-athlete policy adopted during the 2015-16 school year. The OHSAA’s policy outlines how the governing body of athletic programs for junior and senior high schools regulates trans athlete participation, and has allowed fewer than 20 trans athletes to participate in the last eight years.

Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) introduced the idea of codifying a policy similar to the OHSAA’s rather than passing HB 6 during the hearing on April 19. Given the two options, Golski said she much rather see legislation similar to the OHSAA’s guidelines. However, Bruno, Debussy and Golski each said their perfect scenario is for no legislation to be signed into law. 

“The legislators don’t need to be doing this at all because [the OHSAA’s] policy already exists,” Bruno said. “It also makes it very hard to modify in the future as we get a better understanding of science and also more information about all the factual parameters of each sport.” 

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

A previous version of the bill required students to undergo “internal and external” exams to verify their sex for “athletes in question.” The provision was removed and replaced last year with an amendment requiring proof of sex by birth certificate. Now, neither of those provisions is in the text of the bill.

“Ultimately, we know that HB 6 is a piece of discriminatory legislation that is unnecessary in nature,” Debussy said. “The [OHSAA] policy has worked for nearly a decade in Ohio.” 

What impact would HB 68 have on Ohio’s LGBTQ+ community? 

HB 68, the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” would bar healthcare professionals from providing treatment known as gender-affirming care to trans children in the state. Violating physicians would be disciplined by the state medical board and could face legal action from the state’s attorney general. 

“What we’re just simply saying is, let kids grow up,” said Click, who reintroduced the bill in February. “Children are incapable of providing the informed consent necessary to make those very risky and life-changing decisions.” 

The bill states mental health professionals must screen patients for abuse and comorbidities before diagnosing gender dysphoria. In addition, mental health professionals are required to report data outlining the number of minors treated for a “gender-related condition” each year. 

However, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other major medical providers have spoken out against the bill. The Ohio Children’s Hospital Association previously called the bill a “misguided effort” that could exacerbate harm to LGBTQ+ youth.

In the meantime, Bruno, Debussy and Golski are encouraging trans youth to speak out when they feel comfortable and to protect their mental health when the political climate is overwhelming.

“Your existence does not have to be a political statement, but we acknowledge that other people continue to try to make it so,” Bruno said. “I hope [lawmakers] see these crowds at the Statehouse and they’re able to recognize that their community is, in fact, supportive and continues to be supportive.”