MASON, Ohio — High school students in Mason are pushing back against what critics call Ohio's version of the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
Mason High School seniors Kaya Rossey and Andrew Levin are behind a petition against House Bill 616 that's already been signed by hundreds of people.
“We're the people being affected by these things directly, so if this were to pass, we're the people that are going to see the results of it,” Rossey said.
The students joined other community members to speak out against House Bill 616, legislation filed by State Representatives Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta) and Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) earlier this month.
“If we didn't step up, we didn't know who would,” said Levin.
HB 616 bans schools from teaching gender identity and sexual orientation through the 3rd grade. After that, schools would be limited to “age-appropriate materials” in accordance with state standards. The bill also bans schools from teaching “divisive or inherently racist concepts.” The bill includes critical race theory, the 1619 project, diversity, equity and inclusion learning outcomes, and any other concept that the state board of education defines under that definition.
“The classroom is a place that seeks answers for our children without political activism,” Rep. Schmidt said in a statement. “Parents deserve and should be provided a say in what is taught to their children in schools. The intent of this bill is to provide them with the tools to be able to see what their child is being taught.”
WCPO contacted Rep. Schmidt’s office for comment Monday and hasn't received a response.
Critics have said the bill is an attempt to erase LGBTQ+ people and silence the voices of people of color. The students leading the effort in Mason, who both identify as queer, said it will add stigma.
“It’s so difficult being a queer student already without these restrictions,” Rossey said. “Even with like, a completely supportive family, I have a really hard time.”
Levin said he feels like he's getting caught in the crossfire.
“A lot of the conversations that have been going on almost feel kind of insulting because they don't really include us,” Levin said.
No members of the public spoke in favor of the bill.
Mason City Schools said it is proud that its students are engaged.
“Our Board of Education always welcomes hearing students’ stories and perspective," Mason City Schools Public Information Officer Tracey Carson said in a statement. "The MCS Board of Education is also concerned about this bill. We will always be opposed to any legislation that erodes our local control. This appears to be another example of Columbus searching for a problem that simply does not exist — certainly not in Mason. Most importantly, we have a duty to ensure that every Comet (students and staff) is safe, and knows they belong at school.”
The students specifically asked the school board to pass a resolution condemning the bill.
“We know that we have sway,” Rossey said. “So if they could just a put a statement out saying that ‘we don’t agree with this,’ we think it can make a huge difference.”
The board did not vote on the issue Tuesday. Ultimately, it is up to Ohio lawmakers and the governor to decide whether the bill becomes a law. To become a law, the bill would still need to pass Ohio’s House and Ohio’s Senate, as well as be signed by the governor.
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