Gay hiking

‘Don’t say gay:’ Florida-like bill introduced in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill has made its way to the Ohio Statehouse.

Two Republican state lawmakers introduced House Bill 616 on Tuesday to ban schools from teaching ‘dividing or inherently racist concepts’ – including sexual orientation and gender identity for students between kindergarten and third grade, according to the text of the bill.

The wording is similar to Florida’s “parental rights in education” that Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law last week. Opponents called it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and companies such as The Walt Disney Company said they would work to repeal it.

The wording is also similar to an earlier “divisive concepts” bill in Ohio that was criticized by educator groups and others. This bill is currently stalled in the House Committee on Local and State Government.

For older students between fourth and twelfth grades, HB 616 would require that any instruction in LGBTQ-related topics be taught in an age-appropriate manner, the bill says.

In addition to prohibiting programming related to sexual orientation and gender identity, the bill prohibits the following:

  • Critical Race Theory
  • Intersectional theory
  • The 1619 Project
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Learning Outcomes
  • Inherited racial guilt

According to the bill, teachers who discuss any of the bill’s “divisive concepts” are investigated by the school’s superintendent and barred from receiving the necessary credits for renew their teaching license.

Depending on the severity of a violation, HB 616 would authorize the Ohio Department of Education to withhold funds from the district, the bill states.

Introduced by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Rep. Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta), HB 616 marks the third time a bill banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools across the Ohio is featured at the Statehouse. Schmidt and Loychik were not immediately available to comment on the bill.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Schmidt said HB 616 would keep political activism out of schools.

“The classroom is a place that seeks answers for our children without political activism,” Schmidt said in the statement. “Parents deserve and should have a say in what their children are taught in schools. The intent of this bill is to provide them with the tools they need to see what their child is being taught.

Both Loychik and Schmidt are first-time Reps; Loychik represents the 63rd Home District which includes parts of Trumbull County; Schmidt represents the 65th Home District, which includes northwestern Clermont County.

Ohio Republican President Robert Cupp said his caucus has yet to discuss the bill.

“I just noticed it was introduced,” Cupp said. “I haven’t had a chance to read it, so we’ll watch it to see what it is.”

Ohio House Democratic Minority Leader Allison Russo shared her thoughts on the bill.

“This, to me, speaks to the extremism that continues to plague this state house, and we cannot continue to grow as a state economically, do good for Ohio families, if we don’t ‘let’s not embrace our diversity and make sure this state is inclusive for all Ohioans,’ she said.

Russo even had parting words for the bill’s sponsors.

“If you don’t feel comfortable speaking publicly about your bill and answering questions about it, then maybe it shouldn’t be introduced,” she said.

Advocates for teachers and the LGBTQ+ community have both condemned HB 616.

“I don’t know exactly what program they are referring to there. I don’t know what problem they’re trying to solve, said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association. “If you have students who have gay parents and you have a conversation that is part of the curriculum about family, neighborhood, community, which you often have in elementary school, what does a teacher do if a child talking about her two dads or her two moms?

“I am the parent of a five year old child and I will not be erased from my daughter’s class. I will not be erased from my daughter’s mind or memory,” said Densil Porteous, executive director of Stonewall Columbus. “I think it’s a real travesty to consider that in our time, at this time in our time and in this time in our history, that our lawmakers here in the state — Republicans at that — would think it would be appropriate to create such a discriminatory bill.

DiMauro expressed concern for Ohio’s educational and economic future if HB 616 were to become law, comparing the measure to legislation signed last month in Florida that limits LGBTQ+ discussions in schools.

“You see how much division is happening there. You have a governor who is at war with one of the largest employers in the state of Florida right now,” DiMauro said, referring to tensions between Disney World and Governor Ron DeSantis. “It makes me wonder, where is Intel on this? Where are the other big employers in the state of Ohio?”

HB616 is awaiting assignment to a House committee for a hearing. All bills introduced in the Ohio House must have at least one committee hearing.

The full bill, as presented, is below.