Warning: This report contains strong language concerning the LGBTQ+ community. Reader discretion is advised.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A leaked audio recording of an Ohio Republican lawmaker’s conversation with a trans woman has revealed that a controversial bill impacting the LGBTQ+ community was written without the basic understanding of the people it would impact and that the lawmaker had never spoken to any members of the trans community before authoring, introducing or giving testimony on the bill.
House Bill 454, introduced by Rep. Gary Click, a Republican from Vickery, would severely limit healthcare for transgender youth. In the 90-minute audio recording shared with News 5, constituent Cam Ogden, 22, spoke with Click, who is also a pastor in rural Sandusky County. She went to meet with him to urge him in early March 2022 to stop the bill but said what she learned in his office was much more concerning.
“Representative Click actively chose to put forth legislation that will forcibly detransition all transgender minors in the state without talking to a single one,” Ogden said.
Ogden, 22, reached out to News 5 Cleveland after watching reporter Morgan Trau’s coverage of the bill’s hearing process. News 5 held numerous editorial meetings over the course of weeks to discuss how to report this story. We later learned Click had recorded the conversation as well.
After listening to the recording and speaking with Ogden, News 5 sat down with Click to discuss the bill and the controversy surrounding it. He confirmed he hadn't spoken to any trans person about his bill until he met Ogden, which was a few weeks after he gave sponsor testimony.
“Did you think that when you're putting forward a bill towards a community, you should probably reach out to them?” we asked.
“Well, that's the way the legislative process works,” Click said. “It's when you put that bill out there that you gain those conversations.”
The bill’s origin
The lawmaker was approached in the spring of 2021 by the conservative advocacy group Center for Christian Virtue (CCV) to put forward House Bill 454, dubbed theSave Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE), he said.
It would prohibit gender-affirming care from trans and nonbinary youth, including hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), medical or surgical procedures and some mental health services.
Healthcare professionals who provide this care could lose their license and be sued. Public funding would be taken away from institutions that provide care for transgender young people. Insurance providers and Medicaid would not cover gender-affirming procedures for minors.
Click and Chesterland Republican state Rep. Diane Grendell are the primary sponsors. They have support from 23 other House Republicans.
What else is in the bill
In the face of immense backlash, Click offered to amend the bill during the fourth hearing in early June to make it clearer that youth can still get counseling for gender dysphoria. Nothing ever came of his reading of a draft provision, so it is not in effect or on the bill’s online page.
Even if minors would still be able to get counseling, physicians and educators said an ethical code would be broken.
The bill would make counselors tell parents if the minor is having any thoughts related to their gender, which has opponents citing concerns for the child's safety.
“Most parents are not going to abuse their children, and if they're going to abuse their children, they've probably already done so in other ways,” Click said. “I'm going to stand up for the right of parents to raise their children.”
“Well, what about the right of parents to decide what is best for their kid in regard to medical?” we asked.
“Okay,” he laughed. “So that's a good question. I know you're going to go there, and that's a legitimate question.”
He gave two reasons for why parents shouldn’t have the right to decide: there are limitations to every choice and that parents are being tricked.
“Parents are being manipulated by the physicians,” Click said. When parents will tell doctors or counselors that they think their child’s gender identity is “just a fad,” Click said they will respond by “blackmail.”
“The counselor will look at them and say, ‘Do you want a living son or a daughter?’” he said, “‘because if you do not affirm your child, they will commit suicide.’”
He said he learned about these alleged incidents from individuals who he was connected with by the Center for Christian Virtue.
Click said he has done hours of research. That research, though, has been called into question by experts, and it consists of testimonies from detransitioners, disgruntled parents (some of whom have lost custody of, or are no-contact with their trans children), YouTube videos and articles from the 1980s that have been debunked or more recent pieces that have been widely criticized for being transphobic.
Click said if anything in the interview was taken out of context, he would release his own video. We said that was fine. He brought up being fair to him in the story about a dozen additional times throughout the interview and in conversations after.
What’s at stake
There are an estimated 1.6 million Americans who identify as transgender, according to anew study done by UCLA School of Law. Now more than ever, young people are identifying as transgender, according to Pew Research.
That is not to say that the number of transgender people is increasing itself, but rather that people are feeling more comfortable identifying themselves. This could be due to representation in the media or access to the internet to find other LGBTQ+ individuals.
Click, however, believes being transgender is mental illness caused by a traumatic event.
“Young people had been, in essence, groomed in school and other places,” he said. “Then they've gone off into some of this transgender type stuff.”
When asked if he believed grooming leads to someone being transgender, he said, “absolutely,” adding that molestation and abuse can also lead to being trans. The Cleveland Clinic and the American Psychiatric Association both say that isn't true.
“The grooming rhetoric is so harmful to our community, I can't even overstate it,” said Equality Ohio's Maria Bruno. “Grooming is a terrible thing, pedophilia is a terrible thing, and to conflate an LGBTQ identity with those terrible actions attempts to paint all of us as villains, even though there's no truth to it.”
Bruno used to help set up meetings for community members to share their concerns with Click, but she said her organization had to stop.
“We are not willing to enter into hostile conversations for the sake of it, particularly if we don't think the person we're talking to is acting in good faith,” Bruno said. “And some of these questions were just completely out of line.”
"Did you ever think about taking your life?" Click asked Ogden in the recording.
No, Ogden responded. Click said that was good and that he was glad.
“To what do you attribute the fact that you never thought about taking your life?” the lawmaker pressed.
God, Ogden said, knowing that Click is a pastor.
“I brought up religion as a sort of distraction, and it worked extremely well,” she said. “We no longer spoke about suicide.”
In his interview with News 5, Click used the wrong pronouns for Ogden. When corrected, Click said, “he, she, they.”
“Well, he was just telling me, ask me whatever you want to ask,” Click said.
She did that to start a dialogue that was free of judgment, Ogden said.
“I openly said to him that I would not try and admonish for poor word choice or maybe not asking a question in the right way,” she said.
For Click, he said he isn't trying to offend anyone, but rather prevent kids and teens from making a decision they would regret.
“All it becomes an elaborate masquerade, and you are masquerading as the opposite sex because your DNA never changes,” he said.
That is incredibly offensive, Ogden said.
“People are obsessed with saving transgender people in all sorts of ways other than actually helping them be who they are,” she said.
In the tape, Click advocates for detransitioning, or at least presses the point that there is an option to detransition.
“Obviously, there's the opportunity for you to get to a place where you say, you know what? This isn't right for me. You could still detransition. You could still desist from this,” Click tells Ogden on in the recording.
After denying that he told a trans person they could still detransition, that portion of the recording was played for Click.
“That's an awful short soundbite in there to put it in context,” Click said. “First of all, Cameron is an adult, so this bill doesn't apply to him?”
Click asked for a few days to gather his thoughts and News 5 obliged.
“After reviewing the conversation, it is apparent that the comment was made in reference to a question from Cam regarding detransitioning,” Click said.
The audio tape doesn’t show that.
Ogden never asked if she could detransition, or referenced herself at all in regard to detransitioning before his statement.
“The specific choice of language there about you know, ‘there's still time for me’ — that line of questioning presented towards someone who's younger and in a much more fragile position could be very, very damaging,” Ogden said.
Ogden and Click maintained a civil conversation, with Ogden trying her best to change the subject whenever she was uncomfortable – which was often, she said.
After speaking with Ogden, Click spoke with at least two other trans individuals, which was confirmed by Click, Equality Ohio and the trans constituents.
In the one-on-one with Ogden and the group chat with the others, Click spent hours asking questions and listening to concerns, he said.
“I will continue to have those conversations with anyone who wants to talk to me,” Click said. “People come in and they're polite and we have a conversation, and we agree where we agree and we disagree where we disagree.”
Talking to trans individuals has only strengthened his viewpoints, Click added.
“When you medicalized that child, you stripped them of that choice for the rest of their lives. That's dangerous, that's despicable and that's wrong. And I'm going to protect those kids,” Click said. “How's that for a soundbite?”
HB 454 is currently stuck in a House committee but could be passed as soon as this fall.
You can listen to Ogden’s conversation below:
Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.