Lawmakers hear Ohio's version of Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill

GOP lawmakers hold first hearing for Ohio's 'Don't Say Gay' bill
Posted at 8:21 AM, Jun 01, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Right before Pride Month begins, Ohio legislators testified in support of their bill that would ban schools from teaching "divisive concepts," including sexuality and gender, which is referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

House Bill 616 states that no school district, community school, STEM school, nonpublic school that enrolls students who are participating in a state scholarship program, or any employee or other third party representing a school district or school can teach any “divisive or inherently racist concepts.” That includes all of the critical race theory, intersectional theory, the 1619 project, diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes and “inherited racial guilt.” The next section of the bill touches on sexuality and gender identity.

In a packed committee hearing room, Republican state Reps. Jean Schmidt, from Loveland, and Mike Loychik, from Bazetta, gave testimony about how schools should teach their children.

To be clear, neither of the two has ever worked in education.

RELATED: House Republicans introduce Ohio's version of Florida’s 'Don’t Say Gay' bill

"This bill is designed to protect parental rights and protect children from indoctrination," Loychik said.

Among the majority opponents of the bill in the room sat Cynthia Peeples, the founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education. The nonpartisan organization has been fighting against censorship bills, and this is the third one it has had to rally against this Legislature, she said.

"This bill is an instrument to perpetuate hate, racism, homophobia and transphobia, antisemitism, xenophobia," she listed off, gesturing her hands when saying antisemitism.

News 5 aired an exclusive report about comments made by one of the primary sponsors of the original “divisive concepts” bill — H.B. 327. The report stemmed from an interview exchange between state Representative Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) and a News 5 reporter Morgan Trau in early March.

RELATED: Comments about the Holocaust from representative sponsoring 'divisive concepts' bill raise concerns

During the interview, Fowler Arthur was asked about the financial aspect of the bill. While attempting to talk about funding, she brought up the Holocaust, saying that students needed to hear the massacre from the perspective of the "German soldiers."

After the exclusive News 5 story on House Bill 327's sponsor's comments on the Holocaust went international, lawmakers are trying a new way to regulate what is being taught in schools.

"This bill will ensure that the classroom is a place of learning, not a place of biased, political talking points," Schmidt said.

Teaching those topics isn't biased or relying on political talking points, it is just history, Peeples said.

Maria Bruno with Equality Ohio pointed out that the bill is extremely unclear, since it outright bans the topics for up through third grade, but it is unclear what happens after that.

"The 'Don't Say Gay, Don't Mention Race" bill — it is very expansive in what it tries to ban and very ambiguous and what it tries to ban," Bruno added.

Even the bill sponsors didn’t have that answer.

In a heated exchange, state Rep. Mike Skindell, a Democrat from Lakewood, tried his best to figure out the logistics of the bill. There are no definitions in the bill on what is divisive, which he, as a lawyer, said was essential.

"State Board of Education will define what is racially inherent, what is diversity," Schmidt said.

That isn't good enough, according to Skindell and other Democrats.

"That's the problem with this bill is you want the State Board of Education to define that — that's the job of legislators to define these concepts if you're going to put them forward," Skindell said. "Why would we rely upon an unelected body, well part of them unelected body, to do that? That's our responsibility as legislators to define that, and the problem is in this bill — there are a whole slew of things that can fall within the definitions of these things."

Why wouldn't the lawmakers that wrote the bills be defining them, the Democrat asked ? He was interrupted by committee Chair Scott Wiggam, a Republican from Wayne County.

"This is something that you'd be willing, if we need to, zero in and redefine that," Wiggam said. "I mean, you'd be willing to do that — I think that that's probably a conversation that we're we should be having —"

"We are having it right now, Mr. Chair, without you interrupting my question," Skindell interrupted. "Thank you."

Bill supporters, like Mission America’s Linda Harvey, said we need to hear “both sides” of the issue.

"It's a very powerful political movement," Harvey said, referring to being part of the LGBTQ+ community. "And to have it be influencing our public schools to the point where there's one viewpoint and you're telling younger and younger children this is acceptable, is not fair."

There is no "gay agenda," Bruno laughed.

"People are finally able to be their true selves and be honest about who they are and how they identify," she said. "It seems more present because that's what it means to have actual visibility and representation."

For some supporters, like Harvey, it all comes down to one thing: religion.

"Elementary, early elementary grades are being told during the Pride Month to celebrate Pride and what that all means," Harvey said. "Well, pride in what? You know there are an awful lot of traditional families that do not believe these lifestyles are moral, nor are they necessary."

Those comments are ridiculous, Bruno added.

"The last I heard, our public schools are supposed to not have religion injected into them, so I think the idea that someone's religion might be confronted through the normal course of business of acknowledging the existence of their peers, you know, that's for them to work out with God," the advocate said. "But for the sake of this bill, someone's individual religious expression has no place being the rule of the land."

Harvey said that learning about LGBTQ+ people, emphasizing trans individuals, is "unsettling" and "violates nondiscrimination laws" because there are religious families that would say this is "totally inappropriate." She then listed off Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

However, Jews in the U.S. are majority politically liberal, especially with social issues, according to Pew Research Center. Many national Jewish groups passed resolutions as early as 1977 that urged for equal rights, same-sex marriage and have welcomed transgender individuals, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Reform, as well as Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism, all support LGBTQ+ rights.

"There are a lot of religious communities that will feel attacked by this — maybe we do still have conversations about Christianity, but are we allowed to have them about Buddhism or about Judaism?" Bruno asked.

Even so, many Christian and Muslim individuals support LGBTQ+ rights, according to Catholics for Choice.

"There is no traditional family anymore — we all love in different ways," Peeples said. "All of our families look uniquely different."

The bill won’t be heard again until next fall when supporters and opponents will get to testify in front of the committee.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.