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‘I’m being villainized’ — Trans community speaks against Board of Ed. resolution opposing LGBTQ+ protections

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Posted at 6:50 PM, Sep 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-16 19:16:43-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The LGBTQ+ community, educators, parents and some lawmakers are speaking out against a new Ohio Board of Education resolution, which opposes protections for the queer community.

Conservative state board member Brendan Shea introduced the "Resolution to support parents, schools, and districts in rejecting harmful, coercive, and burdensome gender identity policies."

The document was created after Shea read about Attorney General Dave Yost's July lawsuit against the Biden Administration. Yost, who joined 21 other attorneys general, argued that new changes to Title IX were illegal.

Due to the plethora of anti-trans legislation hitting state legislatures across the country, President Joe Biden strengthened protections for students under the protection act.

Three out of four LGBTQ+ kids have experienced discrimination, according to a study done by the Trevor Project. Aaron Demlow knows that feeling well.

"I wouldn't wish that loneliness or isolation on anybody because I almost didn't make it through," he said.

Demlow is a young trans man from Medina, graduating after spending years dealing with bullies at school, which he claims came from both students and teachers. But the educators who stood up for him helped him survive, he said.

"I knew if something was said by another student, the teacher would handle it," he said. "It was a relief, I could actually focus on school."

Biden wants to have every educator be that inclusive by extending Title IX to protect against gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination.

Shea and other Republican policymakers said the new guidelines go too far since the government could withhold federal funding from schools that don’t follow the updated law.

"I think many of the people pushing for these types of things — again, that are brand new, they're trendy, they were introduced in a sense, 10 minutes ago," Shea said. "I acknowledge some of these folks are in the majority on so many other issues pertaining to mental health... It doesn't seem to be working."

The proposal begins by addressing "objective truths," which talks about biological sex and argues that "sex is not arbitrarily 'assigned' at birth but rather identifies an unchangeable fact."

In his proposal, Shea ignores the fact that intersex people exist and also seems to misunderstand what "assigned at birth" means.

"Assigned at birth" references gender identity and how the individual identifies. It can match the assigned sex at birth, or it could not.

The idea that sex and gender are the same is outdated, according to medical professionals, educators and LGBTQ+ activists.

"Denying the reality of biological sex destroys foundational truths upon which education rests and irreparably damages children," Shea said, without any underlying evidence or data to support the claim.

Shea, a financial advisor who is home-schooling his children, knew he would be putting forward a "somewhat bold" proposal, but it "needs to be addressed."

"If we upend something as basic, and I think generally accepted as a scientific fact prior to 10 minutes ago, that a human male has an X and Y chromosome... If we upend that, then I don't think we have a leg to stand on in education in terms of upholding certain things as self-evident truths," he said.

There are an estimated 1.6 million Americans who identify as transgender, according to a new study done by UCLA School of Law. Now more than ever, young people are identifying as transgender, according to Pew Research.

That is not to say that the number of trans people is increasing itself or is a “trend,” but rather that people are feeling more comfortable identifying themselves, multiple LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have argued. This could be due to representation in the media or access to the internet to find other LGBTQ+ individuals, they say.

However, for Shea, having gender dysphoria is "not normal" nor "natural," he said.

The proposal then goes on to list what he doesn't like about the protections, including compelling schools to "deny biological reality" and the fact that refusing to call a child by their preferred pronouns or preferred name could be seen as sex-based harassment, opening the adult up to be sued.

When asked what was burdensome about using someone's correct pronouns, Shea said, "It's compelling speech, it's compelling someone to testify to something that they do not believe, that they believe is actually a falsehood...It's also violating what I believe is a religious liberty concern."

Shea’s proposal rejects the new Title IX and said God made just man and woman.

"I'm simply saying that this will lead to people, which I believe is a large number of Ohioans, a large number of Americans who do subscribe to religious belief, it will lead them to have to deny, basically deny, what they believe to be true, to comply with the new regulations," the board member responded after News 5 asked about those who don't subscribe to religious ideology, or rather, Christianity.

To note, just because Shea wants to put forward this resolution doesn't mean he has the power for all of these requirements to go into place. He isn't a lawmaker, but a policy-maker, and has limited control over educators. He can, however, give encouragement to lawmakers to continue looking at these types of bills and can have the state superintendent tell school districts to not follow Title IX.

That could still be very damaging, according to state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo).

“This resolution hides under a very thin veil of ‘supporting families,’ but we must call it what it is: an unnecessary, unprovoked attack on Ohio’s children,” Fedor said. “The resolution is harassment — full stop.”

Among other provisions, it requires all Ohio schools to report to parents if their child mentions anything about their gender in a non-conforming way — in the classroom or when talking to a counselor.

News 5 asked if forcing educators and staff to report the child's gender identity would be considered "compelling speech."

"I believe that the parents have a right to know," he said.

It is unclear how much research Shea has done on this topic, similar to state Rep. Gary Click, a Sandusky Republican who authored controversial legislation dealing with LGBTQ+ rights. However, both men put forward their ideas, with Shea's mirroring Click's.

A leaked audio recording of Click's conversation with a trans woman has revealed that the bill impacting the LGBTQ+ community was written without the basic understanding of the people it would impact and that the lawmaker had never spoken to any members of the trans community before authoring, introducing or giving testimony on the bill.

House Bill 454, introduced Click, would severely limit healthcare for transgender youth. In the 90-minute audio recording shared with News 5, constituent Cam Ogden, 22, spoke with Click, who is also a pastor in rural Sandusky County. She went to meet with him to urge him in early March 2022 to stop the bill but said what she learned in his office was much more concerning.

RELATED: Leaked audio shows Ohio rep. introducing bill to limit affirming care had never spoken to trans community

Click's bill would make counselors tell parents if the minor is having any thoughts related to their gender, which has opponents citing concerns for the child's safety. That argument was brought up by News 5 to Shea, as well.

"The school has no right to assume that that child is going to be unsafe if we tell the parents that," he said. "I'm concerned that we'll see increased lawsuits and things that are happening in Canada, where we are seeing parents lose custody of children for failing to affirm gender identity and things of that nature."

While losing custody does happen, it isn't just not affirming your child that makes that happen, legal experts said. Also, this claim that Canadian law allows this was debunked as a conservative right-wing conspiracy theory.

"I feel like a lot of kids would be very secretive about their identity, maybe not even telling friends for fear of being ratted out to the school and their parents," Demlow said.

Although Shea denied looking at any other bill for inspiration for the proposed Board of Education resolution, the next part takes a page from a controversial bill in the House that would prohibit trans youth from athletics.

House Bill 61 would ban transgender girls and women from participating in middle and high school and college athletics. It also comes with a “verification process” of checking the genitals of those “accused” of being trans.

Shea's bill prohibits trans youth from playing sports because it would be "unfair" and it places "girls and women at increased risk for harassment and sexual assault by males who claim a female identity."

However, Shea does not support genital inspections, he said.

"It's just so obvious to me that this would put so many kids in danger," Demlow said. "I feel hated. I feel like I'm being villainized."

The past Legislature is very frustrating and exhausting for Demlow.

"It's very, very frustrating to constantly see politicians and people in power talk about things that they really just fundamentally do not understand," he said.

Demlow is sick of people being transphobic, especially because the trans community is so small.

After it was explained to Shea what transphobic meant, he said, "I would simply reject the idea that I'm in any way transphobic...I would say the compassionate and loving thing to do is to speak the truth and love as I'm attempting to do here."

State Board of Education Members Christina Collins, Meryl Johnson, Michelle Newman and Antoinette Miranda gave a statement Friday about their colleague's proposal.

"We are embarrassed that our time as a board will be spent discussing an issue that so egregiously works to bully children and threaten adults," the joint statement read. "Shea not only presented a resolution full of factual errors and based in religious pedagogy, but he also submitted a resolution that works to detract our body from the work many of us were elected to do."

Read the full statement here.

This resolution is likely to be discussed next week at the Board of Education meeting. But educators around the state are already speaking out against it, just as they have for other bills they deem as anti-LGBTQ+.

"This resolution advocating for a reckless disregard for federal law is despicable," Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, said in a statement to News 5. "Policies that force educators to “out” transgender and non-binary students will put our students in danger and will further exacerbate the growing educator retention and recruitment crisis in our state as excellent educators continue to be driven from their classrooms by inflammatory rhetoric and political scapegoating putting public education in the center of culture wars manufactured by out-of-state extremists to distract voters from the real issues facing the schools in our state."

Honesty for Ohio Education, a nonpartisan coalition of education professionals and advocates for all students, shared a list of things to do for those who want to speak out against Shea.

Demlow said the real compassionate thing to do was not make trans and LGBTQ+ kids the enemy since they already have enough to deal with.

Demlow shared a message for the trans kids having to see this resolution.

"Stay strong, stay alive because the world is a better place with you in it," Demlow said. "And it will get better, I promise."

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.