Ohio lawmakers hear questions, misinformation on 'bathroom bill' for schools and universities
An Ohio House committee heard from the Republican sponsors of a bill to require K-12 and college students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates. Lawmakers heard misinformation about the issue and questions about the prevalence of the problem.
The 17-page bill would ban schools from allowing students to use bathrooms, locker rooms or other accommodations that don't correspond to their "biological sex." The bill notes that schools are permitted to set up single-occupancy facilities "at the request of a student due to special circumstances." The lawmakers note there's no funding in the bill to build those facilities, but schools can allow students to use bathrooms reserved for faculty or in school clinics.
In their testimony and answers to questions before the House Higher Education Committee, the bill's sponsors brought up anecdotal stories of students deliberately going into opposite-gender spaces. They talked about an NCAA transgender athlete in Kentucky and an incident in a YMCA locker room in Xenia, but didn't mention the trans person involved was found not guilty of public indecency. They also mentioned pornography, child sex trafficking and gender transition treatments.
Sponsoring Rep. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) said the bill is needed because some courts have ruled on so-called "bathroom laws," and the Biden administration in 2022 issued a directive that trans students can use the bathroom they feel corresponds with their gender identity. That directive was blocked by a federal judge in Tennessee after 20 Republican attorneys general, including Ohio's AG Dave Yost, brought a lawsuit.
"The legislative branch needs to weigh in on this issue. The current leaders in the federal executive branch have given guidance to schools on this issue," said Bird. "The judicial branch has issued rulings, and I believe that it's time for the legislative branch in Ohio to make law on an issue that is very important to the parents in Ohio."
But Democrats pushed back on the need for the bill.
"I genuinely am wondering, on a college campus where mass shooters are most likely to be men, where the people who commit most violent acts are men — not in bathrooms, not without their clothes on, they commit violent acts all over the place — most assaults don't happen in bathrooms," said Rep. Dani Isaacsohn (D-Cincinnati). "Why are we not focused — if that is truly the goal, to protect people from violence, especially young people — why are we not focused on things that would actually make a difference in protecting them?"
Bird responded, "We can't have people on separate buses, men on one bus, women on another bus. But I believe that this bill recognizes the fact that any restroom or locker room, it's uniquely private."
Rep. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus) said the arguments raise red flags when considering American history and Black people.
"We had separate bathrooms and some of the rationale that I've heard today, unfortunately, mirrors some of the rationale that was used during the Jim Crow era — that there were fear of assault, fear of being harmed, hurt being exposed — and that, unfortunately, led to policies that discriminated against people like me based upon my race," Jarrells said.
"When it comes to the issue of safety as a woman, the word that has been coming to my mind more than anything else over the last few years with all of the changes that are going on is 'misogyny,' " responded the bill's joint sponsor, Rep. Beth Lear (R-Galena). "Our women and our girls are unsafe. There's no equity for them when they're told that somebody who looks like a woman but isn't a woman and is a man comes into their private space."
While it is acknowledged that sexual assault on college campuses is underreported, most studies show those that are reported happen in dorms, and most in the first few months on campus. It's difficult to find any reliable statistics on sexual assaults in K-12 schools, or any involving members of the LGBTQ+ community.
There were questions about which bathroom should be used by students who aren't cisgender, and how schools would ensure that the rules in the bill are followed.
Lear said "some people can, some people can't" when it comes to distinguishing between women who have transitioned and those who were assigned female at birth.
"I'm quite frankly worried about anyone that doesn't fall into a neat box of what people think a girl is supposed to look like, or a boy is supposed to look like," said Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin). "I'm really worried about intersex individuals, transgender individuals and all of the kids that might be a little bit different than the view that I think is a classic 'feminine' view. So what do we do here?"
"That's why we have this bill, so that everyone can have a safe space, even if that means an individual facility for an individual who's very confused and just isn't sure," Lear said.
The committee's ranking member, Rep. Joe Miller (D-Lorain), noted there are state and local laws against indecent exposure, "whether it's in the bathroom, in the basement, in the bedroom, it doesn't matter where it's at. We've already got that on the books," he said. "This, to me, doesn't sound like that's the issue. It sounds like the issue is we don't believe trans people have rights in this state."
Chair Tom Young (R-Washington Township) noted there's no reference to trans people in the bill.
"There's nothing in the legislation that refers to having to police anything," Young said. "There's also nothing in the legislation that says that in any way, shape or form that there has to be an effort to care for for purpose, to carry around a birth certificate, check genitals or anything of that matter."
Other bills dealing with issues affecting Ohio's LGBTQ+ community have moved forward this year. Bills blocking gender-affirming treatment for minors and banning trans athletes from competing in girls' sports were priorities for Republican leaders in the House and Senate. The House passed both in the same bill in June, but there's been no action in the Senate.