COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio lawmakers are advancing a bill allowing parents to opt their child out of school “sexuality” lessons, legislation opponents said is anti-LGBTQ+ and will force educators to out students.
House Bill 8 — the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” — 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 the legislation failed to pass Ohio’s General Assembly last year.
“The focus is to ensure that parents are empowered to be involved in their child’s education both inside and outside the classroom,” Swearingen said in a statement.
Carruthers and Swearingen were not in attendance for the bill’s fifth hearing on Tuesday when the Primary and Secondary Education Committee passed an amendment 7 to 5 to replace and insert new language into HB 8.
The amendment changed the term “sexually explicit content” to “sexuality content,” defined in the bill as “any oral or written instruction, presentation, image or description of sexual concepts or gender ideology.” In addition, a definition has been added for what the lawmakers call “biological sex,” meaning “the sex listed on a person’s official birth record.”
Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Rock Creek) said on Tuesday that the bill would provide parents the opportunity to request excusal for their child from lessons deemed “sexuality content.” Parents whose concerns aren’t resolved after 30 days would be granted a hearing with the district’s board of education.
Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst) questioned Rep. Adam Bird (R-Cincinnati), chair of the committee, and Arthur during the hearing on why the language needed to be changed.
“Is this amendment intended to be an anti-gay, anti-trans bill that’s targeting these most vulnerable children?” asked Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst). “Because it’s lining up to look at a lot like the anti-gay bills that are going around the country right now.”
Bird argued the bill’s intention is not to prohibit instruction, but rather to provide parents the opportunity to review the material to determine whether their child should be provided alternative coursework. He said the bill’s sponsors have heard from Ohio parents who are concerned their child’s school is teaching “sexuality content.”
“There are students in Ohio that are being taught those kinds of things without parent knowledge,” said Bird.
Rep. Jessica Miranda said she is worried the amendment is not about educational content, but about “outing” students who “don’t fit the mold.” She said the bill could be moving Ohio toward legislation similar to the “Don’t Say Gay” law passed in Florida.
“This is dangerous for education here in Ohio and this is dangerous for educators to be held to this kind of standard,” said Miranda. “It is dangerous to our students who are just trying to go to school, be educated and live their lives.”
Scott DiMauro, President of the Ohio Education Association, also takes issue with the legislation:
“This bill is part of a pattern of bills that have been introduced all across the country over the last couple of years really trying to gin up the culture wars as a way to undermine support for public education,” DiMauro said.
Kenyon Farrow, Board President of the LGBTQ Center of Greater Cleveland, worries the bill is working to target any content that is related to LGBTQ people.
“This is a bill that is not only bad for parents, it’s bad for students, it’s bad for school systems and ultimately bad for the country,” said Farrow.
In addition to HB 8, Ohio lawmakers are heading for a floor vote in the House of Representatives for the “Save Women’s Sports Act” which would ban trans athletes from participating in school sports aligned with their gender identity. The “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” is also moving forward and would prohibit various medical treatments for trans minors.
In addition, House Bill 183 has been introduced to ban trans students from using a restroom aligned with their gender identity at schools.
Nationwide, the American Civil Liberties Union has tracked 491 bills deemed to be anti-LGBTQ that were introduced during the 2023 legislative session. Many of the bills, like Ohio House Bill 8, concern public education and the presence of materials aimed at or by LGBTQ individuals.
One of the first and most famous such laws is Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, which blocked the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in pre-K through eighth grades. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has expanded the law, which goes into effect July 1, to place further limits on the teaching of “human sexuality” in high schools.
Critics of such legislation have argued that acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ individuals and identities is not inherently sexual. As John Hopkins University defines, while the term “sexuality” can refer to “the complex range of components that make us sexual beings,” these components also include self-identification, like sexual orientation and gender.
Meanwhile, despite claims to the contrary, there’s little evidence to show even standard sexual education regarding LGBTQ people has been taught on high levels in the U.S. As the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network Research Institute’s National School Climate Survey found in 2021, out of the 29 states that required some form of sexual education in schools, only six (and the District of Columbia) required that sexual education be LGBTQ-inclusive. And only five states, U.S. News & World Report explained, required non-biased (either affirmative or discriminatory) sex education on sexual orientation and gender identity.