Ohio lawmakers back bill requiring teachers to out transgender students

School buses. File photo. (Photo: AtelierKS/Pixabay/Creative Commons: https://pixabay.com/en/service/terms/#usage)

School buses. File photo. (Photo: AtelierKS/Pixabay/Creative Commons: https://pixabay.com/en/service/terms/#usage)

Under a bill pending in the Ohio House, teachers, school counselors and others who supervise children would be required to out transgender children to their parents,.

The bill, sponsored by two Southwest Ohio Republicans, calls for affirming parents' rights to determine what's in their child's best interest, including withholding treatment for gender dysphoria.

“I’m for parental rights, up to age 18. Parents are responsible for their children,” said state Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Cincinnati, who is co-sponsoring House Bill 658 with state Rep. Paul Zeltwanger, R-Mason. Brinkman also said, “At age 18 and one day, they can do whatever they want. I’m not trying to restrict that. I’m just trying to maintain parental rights.”

Brinkman, who said he personally knows one adult transgender person, said he did not consult transgender people when crafting the bill.

Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association, said the state's largest teachers union opposes the bill. "It is contrary to OEA's belief that all persons, regardless of gender orientation, should be afforded equal opportunity and guaranteed a safe and inclusive environment within the public education system," Higgins said.

Gender dysphoria is defined as stress or discomfort caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and the gender assigned at birth. Treatment can range from counseling to hormone therapy to surgery.

Brinkman said the legislation stems from a Hamilton County Juvenile Court case in which custody of a 17-year-old was granted to the maternal grandparents. The parents opposed hormone treatment for the child’s gender dysphoria while the grandparents supported it.

Equality Ohio spokesman Grant Stancliff said no other state in the country has considered such legislation.

“This bill is so aggressive and it has no precedence,” he said. “This is totally unique to Ohio.”

Stancliff said the bill would make teachers, social workers or other government employees the gender police. “I kind of opens up this weird world where teachers are playing Big Brother,” he said.

Brinkman said schools and parents should work together. “If my kid is doing bad stuff or stuff than I’m not approving of, I certainly would hope my school partners — my wife and I, we sent six kids through school and we hope that the school would say, ‘Hey, look, Johnny’s not going to school. Johnny’s with a bad crowd. Johnny might be engaging in drug use.’ We would want them to tell us that. It’s a partnership when you’re going through that age.”

Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, reported that its 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey found 77 percent of teens experienced feeling depressed in the prior seven days, 95 percent said they had trouble sleeping at night and 70 percent had feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, who is an out lesbian, said the bill reflects a lack of understanding of gender identity issues, gives an absolute right to parents to determine what’s best for their children and takes away court intervention.

“I’m sorry. That is just wrong and damaging and I think, ultimately, could have negative outcomes for children who are vulnerable, who are trying desperately to figure out who they are as it is, who are struggling,” Antonio said. “We don’t need to put more barriers in their way. We need to create compassionate safety nets for them.”

The bill received its first hearing in the House Community and Family Advancement Committee, which includes some of the state’s most conservative lawmakers. The Ohio House is now on an extended summer recess, casting doubt on whether the bill can make it through both the House and Senate and receive the governor’s signature before the end of the year. Still, Brinkman said he would not have introduced it if he didn’t believe it could move forward.

“I think when it comes to some of these issues, particularly parental rights, I think you’re going to find a lot of legislators are going to be interested,” he said.

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