The Ohio legislature has given its final approval to a bill that would impose substantial new restrictions on the lives of trans children.
The bill, HB 68, prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming care to trans youths. It also blocks transgender female student athletes from participating in girls’ sports.
The chants of protesters who oppose HB 68 could be heard inside the senate chamber on Wednesday, growing louder when the Ohio lawmakers finally approved the bill by a vote of 24 to eight.
“If you are a trans kid in Ohio right now, know that you are seen, you are heard and I personally apologize for this,” said Senator Bill DeMora, a Democrat, speaking on the chamber floor just before the bill’s passage.
HB 68 was amended to allow trans children who had already begun puberty blockers or hormones before the law’s enactment to continue on those medications. Other minors will not have access to those treatments.
The Ohio house approved the amended version of HB 68 late on Wednesday. The bill now heads to the desk of Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, a Republican with a mixed record on LGBTQ+ rights. DeWine previously indicated that he will not support legislation that blocks trans women and girls from participating in female sports.
“This issue is best addressed outside of government, through individual sports leagues and athletic associations, including the Ohio High School Athletic Association,” the governor said in a 2021 statement.
That same year, DeWine signed a state budget containing language that allowed Ohio medical providers to refuse to provide care to LGBTQ+ patients on the basis of the clinicians’ “moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.”
Civil rights advocates in Ohio urged the governor to veto HB 68.
“The state government is essentially telling us that they know better than parents and doctors,” said Christopher Bolling, a Cincinnati-area pediatrician. “This will harm mental health for kids in Ohio, without question.”
Medical professionals across Ohio have spoken out overwhelmingly against HB 68. At a senate committee hearing last week, Nick Lashutka, the president of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, testified that the bill “strips away” the rights of parents with transgender children. Ohio hospitals do not offer gender-affirming care to young patients without the consent of a parent or guardian.
“Kids can’t even get an appointment, any kind of appointment, at any clinic or children’s hospital in Ohio without a parent’s permission,” Bolling told the Guardian.
The coalition of protesters at the statehouse on included LGBTQ+ advocates and the parents of transgender children, two groups that have fought HB 68 since its inception in February.
Earlier this year, the Ohio house received more than 600 written testimonies from people who oppose the ban on gender-affirming care, compared with just 56 in support of the legislation.
Speaking at a press conference, Nick Bates, a deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran church, said HB 68 robs Ohio families and children of their home.
“Ohio is our home,” he said. “Home is peace, comfort and joy.”
Bates, whose 13-year-old child is non-binary, said HB 68 “threatens the joy,” safety, and comfort of the LGBTQ+ community in Ohio.
Last year, a report from the Trevor Project found that nearly 34,000 queer and trans youth ages 13 to 24 suffered from alarmingly high rates of suicide attempts, depression and anxiety. More than 50% of transgender and non-binary youth in states across the US seriously considered suicide in 2022.
Despite objections from Democrats on the senate floor, the Ohio Republican party maintained that the bill would protect the health and safety of the state’s children.
“Somewhere along the line, the state does have to intervene. It really is a protection of the child kind of thing,” said senate president Matt Huffman, a Republican.
State representative Gary Click, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement earlier this year that a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender children would “ensure that children and adolescents receive only the best and safest healthcare”.
In May, the Ohio Capital Journal resurfaced a 2018 sermon given by Click, a pastor at the Fremont Baptist church. In the video, titled The Value of Family, Click criticized a California law banning conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people.
If DeWine signs the bill into law, Ohio will join the growing list of states that have severely restricted the resources offered to transgender children. As of November, more than one third of all US trans youth live in a state that restricts or prohibits access to gender-affirming care. Kansas, North Dakota, and Wyoming this year passed laws restricting transgender student athletes’ ability to participate in sports.
Maria Bruno, policy director for Equality Ohio, said in a statement this week that “parents and families of trans youth are already making plans to flee the state.”
“Lawmakers have no good reason to meddle in families’ private medical decisions nor in an extracurricular school activity that is already independently regulated,” Bruno said. “Despite Ohio’s best efforts to create good paying jobs, safe neighborhoods, and quality schools, parents will put the health and wellbeing of their children first and leave Ohio”.
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