COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – House Bill 322 has gotten some attention for banning critical race theory in public schools in Ohio.
But tacked on at the bottom of the bill is language some advocates say would be detrimental to transgender students.
House Bill 322 says in part that “No teacher shall be required by a policy… to affirm a belief… in the multiplicity or fluidity of gender identities, or like ideas, against the teacher’s sincerely held religious or philosophical convictions.
“This is not an issue that has anything to do with education,” said Kevin Ulatowski, a lifelong LGBTQ advocate. He spent four years using his master’s in psychology to help youth at a crisis center.
“The number of young people who came in who were seriously suicidal — probably about 95% of the youth were seriously suicidal,” Ulatowski said.
He said for many of the children he counseled, their issues with their gender identity started in the classroom when teachers refused to use a student’s preferred name or pronouns.
“That’s how it plays out in the classroom. The student gradually declines, starts to withdraw. Grades go down and the teacher already has preconceived notions about the student being different, not deserving of what every other student gets,” Ulatowski said.
According to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, as many as 50% of transgender people attempt suicide once in their lives.
Daniel Tirabassi, a LGBTQ advocate, came out as trans when he was 20. He struggled with depression and suicide for years.
“When I was young, I was different,” Tirabassi said. “Struggling with something I couldn’t vocalize, five suicide attempts, in and out of psychiatrists.”
Even though he didn’t start to transition while in school, he said a bill like this would have devastated him.
“The government is giving that to teachers as a kind of ‘save yourself’ from getting fired for not believing in transgender rights,” Tirabassi said.
WKBN reached out to all 28 sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill. Representative Jean Schmidt released the following statement:
“The claim of some that this bill is somehow discriminatory is blatantly false. I support this legislation and stand by the bill current language. I look forward to the committee process and receiving input from all. The government cannot force people to compromise their core values – the first amendment is very clear on this matter.”Representative Jean Schmidt of Miami Township
Another representative echoed Schmidt’s stance on core values in the classroom:
“This is why I am a cosponsor of HB 322: to protect the consciences of faculty and students.
Critical Race Theory is a dangerous ideology when it is used to divide and demonize. No one should be coerced into adhering to or forced to teach someone to adhere to its more extreme tenets. There is a big difference between teaching about an ideology, and being forced to teach it as truth. No teacher should be made to violate their conscience and teach something as true that they sincerely do not believe is true; and no student should be made to affirm something is true in order to pass a class.
Also, students should not have to lobby or advocate for any political outcome in order to pass a class and gradate from school. This places unjust and undue pressure on students to adopt certain ideologies and advocate for positions they cannot in good conscience support. Kids should not be made to choose between a good grade and their conscience.”Representative Reggie Stoltzfus of Paris Township
But Tirabassi and Ulatowski both say they don’t believe a bill like this will help foster an environment where students can learn.
“They’re going to do worse on test scores. They’re not going to want to go to school. They’re going to find any reason not to go to that class to learn,” Tirabassi said.
The bill has been introducted in the Ohio House but has not made it to the floor or an education committee for a debate or a vote.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call 211 to speak with someone who can put you in contact with a counselor.