COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A version of 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 prohibit schools from teaching about “divisive or inherently racist concepts” – including sexual orientation and gender identity for students between kindergarten and third grade, according to the bill’s text.
The wording is similar to Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last week. Opponents referred to it as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and businesses such as The Walt Disney Company have said they will 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. That bill is currently stalled in the House State and Local Government committee.
For older students between the fourth and twelfth grade, HB 616 would require any instruction about LGBTQ-related topics to be taught in an age-appropriate way, the bill reads.
In addition to barring curriculum 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
Teachers who discuss any of the “divisive concepts” in the bill are subject to an investigation conducted by the school’s superintendent and are prohibited from receiving credits required to renew their teaching license, according to the bill.
Depending on the severity of a violation, HB 616 would authorize the Ohio Department of Education from withholding funds from the district, the bill reads.
Introduced by Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Rep. Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta), HB 616 marks the third time a bill prohibiting the instruction of “divisive concepts” in Ohio schools has been introduced in the Statehouse. Schmidt and Loychik were not immediately available for 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 be provided a say in what is taught to their children in schools. The intent of this bill is to provide them with the tools to be able to see what their child is being taught.”
Republican Ohio Speaker of the House Robert Cupp said his caucus has not discussed the bill yet.
“I just noticed that it was introduced,” Cupp said. “I haven’t had a chance to read it, so we’ll be looking at it to see what it is.”
Democratic Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo shared her thoughts on the bill.
“This, to me, speaks to the extremism that continues to run rampant in this statehouse, and we cannot continue to grow as a state economically, do right by Ohio families, if we don’t embrace our diversity and make sure that 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 publically about your bill and answering questions about it, then maybe it shouldn’t be introduced,” she said.
Advocates for teachers and the LGBTQ+ community both condemned HB 616.
“I’m not sure exactly what curriculum they’re referencing there. I’m not sure what problem they’re trying to solve,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association. “If you have students who happen to have gay parents and you have a conversation that is part of the curriculum about family, about neighborhood, about community, that you often have at primary levels, what does a teacher do if a child talks about her two dads or her two moms?”
“I am the parent of a five-year-old, and I will not be erased from my daughter’s classroom. 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 definite travesty to consider that in this day and age, in this moment in our time, and in this period in our history, that our legislators here in the state — Republican at that — would think that it would be appropriate to create such a discriminatory bill.”
DiMauro expressed concerns 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+ discussion in schools.
“You see how much divisiveness is happening there. You’ve got a governor who’s at war with one of the largest employers in the state of Florida right now,” DiMauro said, referring to tension between Disney World and Gov. Ron DeSantis. “It makes me wonder, where is Intel on this? Where are other large employers in the state of Ohio?”
The full bill, as introduced, is below.
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.