COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last week, Ohio House Republicans introduced a bill, similar to a law recently enacted in Florida, that limits how teachers can teach students about sexual orientation and identity. of gender. The bill also prohibits teachers from teaching certain racial subjects.
Two mothers, who are divided over what they think is best for their children and others to learn at school, spoke to Spectrum News 1.
“It’s a struggle for her, and it’s a struggle when people don’t accept her or understand her,” said Erin Bonnell, an LGTBQ mother of two. Her youngest, 10, was assigned a boy at birth but started identifying as a girl five years ago.
“We were having nighttime meltdowns and she was talking about wanting to hurt herself, wanting to talk about how worthless she was,” Bonnell said.
Bonnell said her daughter has struggled in school since, because her daughter felt like she had a constant battle to fight.
“I hate to see my kid struggling. When my kid comes home and just said things like, ‘Someone called me and said I’m not really a girl, I’m a boy and I have to act,'” Bonnell said.
Bonnell thinks more education about sexual orientation and gender identity would not only help her daughter, but others would feel more welcomed and protected.
“I wish I could see in Ohio, in the country, that we need to learn our real history,” Bonnell said.
But a pair of Ohio House Republican lawmakers and other parents disagree. Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, and Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, introduced House Bill 616, which is similar to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida. It would not allow public and private K-3 teachers to teach or promote sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also prohibit the same with respect to “divisive or inherently racist concepts”.
Neither lawmaker responded to Spectrum News 1’s request for comment.
“For Moms for Liberty, we love this bill. I think it’s a shame that it can be so polarizing because I think both sides really want what’s best for the kids,” said Marla Phillis, vice president of Moms For Liberty Franklin County.
Phillis, a mother of six, said after her 16-year-old daughter was accused of being racist for being white, she had to do something.
“My child is the most loving and inclusive person you could ever imagine. So that’s actually what got me involved in Moms For Liberty and trying to find out, OK, who taught you that? Where did you hear that? Because the color of your skin doesn’t determine, you know, whether you’re racist or not. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Phillis said.
According to its website, Moms For Liberty focuses on “advocating for parental rights at all levels of government.”
“Our belief is that this is not necessarily a problem of heterosexual parents. It is a problem of all parents. Any parent, whether you are gay or lesbian or whatever your gender identity, you want to protect the your child’s innocence for as long as you can,” Phillis said.
The bill also states that students in grades 4 through 12 can talk about LGBTQ topics, but only when the state declares it appropriate. Finally, the bill brings back the idea of banning “critical race theory” in schools, language that was previously removed from another bill introduced by Republicans.
“It’s a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Melissa Cropper, who has served as president of the Ohio Teachers’ Federation for the past 10 years.
The Ohio Teachers’ Federation, one of the largest teachers’ unions in the state, does not support the bill.
“We were very frustrated and very angry about it. There are so many issues we need to tackle right now in education, and it’s a distraction. It’s divisive, and it hurts It does no good for students, does nothing to improve our education system,” Cropper said.
In addition to the potential damage, LGBTQ advocates said House Bill 616 sends the wrong message about what most Ohioans really care about.
“You know, in the state of Ohio, where we have such a rich history of diversity and inclusion. Our community was built by such a diverse identity of people, and so having a bill like this- which diminishes identity, diminishes culture, diminishes perspective, doesn’t seem to speak to the true values of our state,” said Stonewall Columbus executive director Densil Porteous.
Former Congressman Steve Stivers, who is now president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber is concerned that certain terms of House Bill 616 could undermine efforts to attract talent and businesses to the state. House Bill 616 has not yet been referred to committee.
Medical organizations, including American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Associationalso condemned similar bills, saying they “in no way protect children,” the AAP wrote in a March press release in response to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. from Florida.
“Banning classroom discussion of these topics sends the message that identifying as LGBTQ is inherently wrong, stigmatizing and marginalizing children who can realize their difference at a young age,” APA president Frank Worrell wrote in March. .
Spectrum News 1 asked Gov. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, on Thursday for his thoughts on the bill. The governor would not say if he supports it in its current form. The governor pointed out that the legislature is not in session right now and the bill could change. For more context, he does not usually give his opinion on every bill introduced.
However, the governor gave a general response to some of the issues the bill’s sponsors raise in the bill.
“I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to talk to 1st or 2nd graders or kindergartners about sex education in school. I just don’t think it’s a good idea. is the proper role of the school. So there are definitely things that we could all agree on,” DeWine said. “We want history to be taught, … the good and the bad. So, you know, these are some of these issues, these issues that we hear about in the Legislature, that we hear about from parents. Parents aren’t just the first teachers. You know, we want parents to be directly involved in what happens in schools. They have every right to do so. It is their child.
When Spectrum News 1 spoke with Phillis, she claimed that the issues mentioned in Bill 616 were taught in different schools. She also claimed to have video evidence but declined to share any evidence.
Spectrum News 1 has yet to receive confirmation from any school in the state that it teaches any of the topics surrounding HB 616 in K-12 schools.