LGBTQ+ youth in Ohio are fighting for the freedom to exist
Close-Up of rainbow flag with crowd In background during LGBT Pride Parade. Getty Images.
By Cynthia Peeples, Honesty for Ohio Education; Maria Bruno, Equality Ohio; and Sean McCann, ACLU of Ohio
Across Ohio and the country, LGBTQ+ youth, particularly transgender and gender-nonconforming youth, are being used as pawns in a national extremist political agenda designed to weaponize race and identity in public education. We know from the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth surveyed considered attempting suicide in the last year. That rate is significantly lower for those who live in affirming homes and communities.
Instead of pursuing affirming policies, certain elected officials exploit misunderstanding and even hatred of LGBTQ+ youth for their own gain. State legislatures, including Ohio’s, have catered their legislative agenda for right-wing extremists, and have introduced hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills over the last two years.
This trend continues at the Ohio State Board of Education, in the form of a resolution recently introduced by elected board member Brendan Shea of Madison County. If Shea’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he was the driving force behind the 2021 repeal of the Board’s 2020 antiracism resolution, passed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Shea is targeting already vulnerable kids to score political points. His resolution proposes express Board support for a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by Ohio Attorney General Yost and 21 other state attorneys general opposing requirements for recipients of federal funds for the free school meal program to adhere to anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, in accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Yes–you read that right. Supporters of this resolution would use school meals as a political pawn because they cannot accept the existence of transgender and gender-nonconforming students.
Shea’s resolution would also direct the state superintendent of education to send a letter urging all Ohio school districts to ignore forthcoming guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) that reiterates Title IX protections for LGBTQ people.
The resolution also asks the legislature to (1) provide stopgap funding to schools that subsequently lose funding because they do not comply with the guidance and (2) make the following changes to Ohio law:
- Require school staff to report information about a child’s gender identity to their parents, no matter the danger to the child;
- Prohibit transgender and gender nonconforming youth from playing on women’s sports teams;
- Prohibit transgender youth from using facilities that align with their gender identity; and
- Prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten – third grade.
Shea’s resolution sets forth a number of false assertions about the nature of gender identity and the safety of gender-affirming care. Gender-affirming care is evidenced-based, lifesaving care supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Endocrine Society, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Psychiatric Association.
It is important to note that the Board does not have the power to enforce this resolution–it is just political theater. However, we must acknowledge the immense harm these actions cause for LGBTQ+ youth by providing cover for districts to implement any of these harmful practices and ignore federal law.
During the September 20th board meeting, 61 people delivered in-person testimony, and 40+ submitted written comments. The vast majority were in opposition to the resolution, including, LGBTQ+ youth, loving parents and guardians of LGBTQ+ youth, education and medical professionals, civil rights advocates, and members of the faith community.
The resolution is scheduled for a vote during the Board’s next monthly meeting on October 12. We strongly encourage Ohioans to oppose this resolution by showing up and speaking out for LGBTQ+ children at the October meeting, learn more at bit.ly/H4OE_SBOETitleIX. Additionally, five Board seats will be on the ballot this November. Together, we can elect State Board Members that support inclusive schools, listen to educators, and embrace ALL students, including and especially LGBTQ+ students.
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