Conservatives in Ohio are pushing legislation that would allow parents to block transgender children from transitioning.
Sponsored by Republican House Reps. Tom Brinkman and Paul Zeltwanger, House Bill 658 grants parents sweeping rights to “withhold consent for gender dysphoria treatment or activities that are designed and intended to form a child’s conception of sex and gender.”
HB 658 also prevents schools from affirming a child’s trans identity without the consent of the young person’s parents. Violating that portion of the legislation would result in a 4th-degree felony.
“Our legislation makes clear that all government entities—including schools, courts, hospitals, and child placement agencies—must inform all parents or guardians when a child expresses symptoms of gender dysphoria and obtain permission before engaging in any gender dysphoria treatment, program, or therapy,” said Rep. Brinkman during a Wednesday hearing.
“We have also included penalties for government agents who violate these requirements to emphasize the importance of parental involvement in life-altering gender dysphoria treatment,” the conservative lawmaker added.
Among the many provisions of HB 658, the proposal also prevents Ohio courts from denying custody to parents in the event they block their transgender child from transitioning. The legislation was proposed following a February court ruling by the Ohio First District Court of Appeals in which the grandparents of a 17-year-old trans boy were awarded custody after his family attempted to force him into conversion therapy.
In that case, the child’s parents also refused to refer to him by male pronouns.
Aaron Baer, president of the Ohio conservative group Citizens for Community Values, said HB 658 would prevent other families from being forced by schools and local government agencies to affirm their child’s gender.
“It’s absolutely horrifying that the state would remove a child from parents’ custody to put the child on untested and dangerous drugs,” Baer claimed in a press release. “Hamilton County Job and Family Services crossed the line in this case. HB 658 ensures this can’t happen to other Ohio families.”
But Equality Ohio, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group, said this legislation exposes youth to myriad harms—while further calling the bill “ridiculous and unenforceable.”
“This unnecessary and discriminatory bill does nothing to support youth and families,” Equality Ohio said in a statement. “In fact, it puts the livelihoods of some of our most vulnerable youth—transgender youth—further at risk with bullying and discrimination by potentially forcing teachers to out them.”
The organization pointed to language in HB 658 requiring teachers to inform parents if a student requests treatment “in a manner opposite” to their “biological sex.” It called this language a “can of worms,” both legally and ethically speaking.
“Who is the judge of which gender is allowed to do what?” Equality Ohio asked. “If Jane signs up for shop class, will her parents receive a government letter? If Jordan doesn’t want to play football, do his parents get a letter? What if Alex wants to attend a meeting of the student LGBTQ group, does the school email that to Alex’s parents?”
“Just what stereotypes are they expected to enforce?” the group added.
Although conservatives referred to hormone therapy and gender-affirming care as “dangerous,” Equality Ohio noted that leading medical groups like the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association “agree that transition-related care is medically necessary.”
Meanwhile, research has shown that access to transition-related care and family acceptance are both instrumental in giving transgender youth the resources to thrive.
While four in 10 transgender people overall say they have attempted to take their own lives, trans individuals with strong social supports are 82 percent less likely to experience suicidal ideation. Transgender youth are 13 times more likely to consider ending their lives when they face rejection from their families than those whose loved ones accept and support their gender transition.
The 2014 death of Leelah Alcorn—a trans teenager in Lebanon, Ohio—shined a light on the need to accept transgender youth. She took her life after being forced into conversion therapy by her parents, intending to “cure” the 17-year-old of her gender identity.
Although HB 658 received a hearing from the Community and Family Advancement committee earlier this week, it remains to be seen whether it can find support in the Ohio General Assembly.
If passed, it’s likely to face an immediate challenge from progressive legal groups.