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

House Bill 616 sponsored by Cincinnati native
House Republicans introduced Ohio's version of Florida's controversial 'Don't Say Gay' bill on Monday, and the Statehouse was in uproar Tuesday morning.
Posted at 7:53 PM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 21:59:12-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — House Republicans introduced Ohio's version of Florida's controversial 'Don't Say Gay' bill Monday, and the Statehouse was in uproar Tuesday morning.

After House Bill 327 sponsor Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur's comments on the Holocaust went international, lawmakers are trying a new way to regulate what is being taught in schools.

Much like HB 327, House Bill 616 would ban the teaching of any divisive or inherently racist concept — but it goes a step further. This bill would prohibit the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Although she refused to talk to other reporters Tuesday, HB 616 sponsor Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican from Cincinnati, did speak briefly with reporter Morgan Trau.

Schmidt said she didn’t want to do an on-camera interview because she was flustered from earlier in the day.

She said the bill has been in the works for a long time. Schmidt confirmed that although it has been worked on, there are no other cosponsors besides the other primary sponsor, Rep. Mike Loychik, a Republican from Trumbull County.

In comparison, HB 327, which is very similar but doesn’t explicitly mention LGBTQ+, has 36 sponsors total. A Statehouse staffer said it is possible that Schmidt and Loychik didn't send out a cosponsor request because they wanted to get it introduced before the general assembly takes a month-long break. Some Republicans alluded that it was sent out.

When approached in the hallways, numerous Republicans avoided talking about the bill, with some rolling eyes.

Loychik did not respond to an interview request but did tweet out: “Curriculum about gender identity and sexuality has no place in k-3 classrooms, period. That’s why I just introduced a bill to ban curriculum about sexuality and gender identity until 3rd grade in Ohio.”

This bill outright bans the topic for up to third grade, but it is unclear what happens after that.

For grades four through twelve, the bill states that teachers can't provide any curriculum on sexual orientation or gender identity in any manner that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for students in accordance with state standards.

Sen. Nickie Antonio, a Democrat from Lakewood, said she is concerned the same lawmakers behind HB 616 are also the ones who would set state standards for what would be "appropriate" and when.

"I don't know if this is some sort of an attempt to put the entire LGBTQ population back in a closet," Antonio said. "There's no closet big enough to put us all in, and frankly, that's not where we belong."

Antonio is the only openly LGBTQ+ member of the general assembly, and she is worried about what this could mean for kids who grew up in that community, like her.

"For me and for anyone who belongs to the community, for families with children, whether their family has two moms or two dads, for children to be able to go to school and talk about their family – is not a divisive concept," she added. "It's to pull people apart and to really destroy, as far as I'm concerned, public education."

So this revised version of the Divisive Concepts bill now also includes not talking about gender, diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes.

Schmidt kept insisting that she is focused on another committee hearing she had coming up, but that she would be open to doing a full interview at a later time. She is waiting until HB 616 gets assigned to a committee, she added.

The entire bill can be read below.

Follow statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.