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Ohio’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill sparks mixed opinions from students and community members

Just weeks after Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill became law, Ohio introduced its own version of the bill in early April. The legislation has caused some controversy in the Oxford community. 

Indigo Miller is the co-president of Spectrum, a student organization at Miami University devoted to creating an inclusive community for LGBTQ+ students. They said the bill didn’t come as a surprise.

“I think it’s a wake-up call of where Ohio is at,” Miller said, “and it’s easy to forget where we are in terms of pursuing rights for queer people.”

Indigo Miller, president of Spectrum at Miami University, opposes Ohio's version of the "Don't Say Gay" bill. Sarah Grace Hays

The bill, officially named House Bill 616 was introduced by Ohio State Representatives Mike Loychik and Jean Schmidt. The bill would limit teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and restrict instruction on topics such as Critical Race Theory (CRT) and diversity, equity and inclusion.

The bill would prohibit kindergarten through third-grade teachers from teaching “any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

Students in fourth through 12th grade would be allowed to have these conversations in the classroom as long as they are “age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Additionally, the bill would bar school boards from using textbooks and instructional materials that “promote any divisive or inherently racist concepts.” These concepts include CRT, intersectionality theory, the 1619 project, diversity, equity and inclusion topics, inherited racial guilt or any other concepts the state board of education deems “inherently racist.”

Similar to House Bills 322 and 327, which focus on how racism, slavery and inequity, including CRT, are taught in schools, HB 616 adds onto those restrictions by including limitations on conversations surrounding sex and gender. 

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When Miller first heard about the introduction of the bill, they had a mix of initial emotions.

“It made me scared and angry when I first heard about it, and one of my first instincts was to learn about it, and then to see if I could do something about it,” Miller said.

Miller said the bill won’t prevent a child’s knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community, but instead delay queer identification for young children and make adolescence harder.

Jamie Adams, an Oxford resident, supports the bill and feels that sexual orientation should not be taught in schools. Adams’ son is going into kindergarten, and she believes these conversations should be left up to parents when they feel the time is right.

“They’re not even ready for a boyfriend/girlfriend until around 13/14 years old,” Adams wrote in an email to The Miami Student. “They’re too young to understand at this age what they want or who they want to be.”

Adams acknowledged that some parents might not know how to have these conversations with their children or may be narrow-minded in their teachings, but she hopes most children will gather a shared understanding of acceptance.

“I know some people say you can’t leave it to the parents because they can pass on biased information to their kids, but I still have hope that there are decent human beings in this world who will teach their children that not everyone is the same and that it’s okay for them to be different,” Adams wrote. 

Although Miller said they didn’t experience these conversations when they were in elementary and middle school, they had a few high school teachers talk about sexual orientation and gender identity in their classes. For Miller, conversations in high school were integral in helping them discover their own gender identity.

“Having those conversations, even though my association with them was a little delayed, was sort of my first step of coming into queer identity, and I’m fortunate enough that that was able to happen for me in high school, but obviously, this bill would stifle that,” Miller said. 

In addition to fostering a safe environment for students to identify with the LGBTQ+ community, Miller is also worried about how this bill will affect the mental health of young queer people.

“Mental health for queer people, especially young people, is so important to acknowledge,” Miller said. “Banning these conversations from the classroom is just going to bolster bias and prejudice against queer kids, and make, perhaps, bullying worse and increase the stigma of being queer.” 

Sabrina Jewell is the treasurer of the Oxford area PFLAG chapter, a national nonprofit organization which provides education, support and advocacy for families, friends and allies of the LGBTQ+ community. She argued that it’s important to have these conversations in the classroom because sometimes children cannot express themselves in their homes.

“We want to make sure that our children are supported and are safe in the schools and in our community,” Jewell said. “We have a pretty conservative community, and many times our students are their true selves at school because they can’t be their true selves at home.”

Sabrina Jewell works with the Oxford chapter of PFLAG, a nonprofit organization that supports LGBTQ+ people and their families. Sarah Grace Hays

Jewell is worried that Ohio lawmakers are trying to create unnecessary conflict that will prevent children from being themselves.

Because Oxford is a smaller city, Jewell said, it has the opportunity to act as a unified role model for other cities and the state.

“We’re a small community … we don’t need more divisiveness,” Jewell said. “We need more coming together and being accepting and loving, because there’s just a lot of other crazy stuff going on in our world, and if we can’t take care of our people here in our own little towns and state and country, we’re gonna be a big mess.” 

Spectrum is holding a silent protest against the bill in front of Armstrong Student Center on April 22. The event aligns with this year’s Day of Silence, an annual event to raise awareness for LGBTQ+ students silenced in schools.

Miller said people can also get involved by being informed and contacting lawmakers.

“The first step is knowing what’s going on, then you can move forward by contacting representatives,” Miller said. “Another way is to stay updated on the news.”

To voice your opinion on Bill 616, you can find your local representative on the Ohio House website.