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After Election Day Defeats, Ohio GOP Begin Hearings Targeting Trans People

The legislature is considering bills that would ban drag performances, gender-affirming care and bathroom access.

Transgender rights advocates hold pride flags during a rally against Ohio legislation banning transgender women from female sports, on June 24, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio.

On Tuesday, voters across the nation decisively rejected anti-transgender policies in numerous elections. In Ohio, candidates supported by conservatives, many of whom campaigned for restrictive school policies against transgender students, were defeated in 73% of their races, as reported by Red, Wine & Blue, a group that mobilizes progressive suburban women nationally. Similarly, Ohioans voted to enshrine reproductive healthcare in the state’s constitution. However, within just two days of these election outcomes, Ohio’s Republicans indicated their intention to persist with the relentless targeting of transgender individuals in the state, ignoring their local losses on this issue. The state legislature, through official scheduling announcements, revealed plans for hearings on legislation that would ban public drag performances, prohibit gender affirming healthcare for transgender youth, and restrict bathroom access for K-12 and college transgender students in Ohio.

At 3:15 on Tuesday, HB245, the drag ban, will receive its first hearing in the Criminal Justice Committee in the Ohio House of Representatives. The bill would ban not only public drag, but any transgender person performing on a stage. The broad definition of adult cabaret in the bill includes “performers or entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different from the performer’s or entertainer’s gender assigned at birth.” Importantly, the bill penalties section for violations of this bill state that penalties are criminal in nature. Those penalties range from misdemeanors for performances that are not considered “obscene” to felonies for those which are.

You can see the penalties here:

Penalties in Ohio HB245 for a drag performance.
Penalties in Ohio HB245 for a drag performance.

Importantly, drag bans have been ruled unconstitutional in several court cases so far. In Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Montana, drag bans have been blocked in court due to being overly vague, overly broad, and violative of 1st Amendment rights. Typically, constitutional violations would normally hold sway over the likelihood of a bill being signed into law given the likelihood of expensive court challenges. However, Ohio Republicans may be undeterred by concerns over constitutionality, given a recent statement of intent to remove jurisdiction from the courts over Ohio’s newly passed constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to an abortion.

At 10:00 AM on the same day, the House Higher Education Committee is set to hear a bill that specifically targets transgender individuals’ bathroom access. House Bill 183 extends further than most transgender bathroom bans nationwide by not only affecting K-12 school students but also barring transgender college and university students from using bathrooms aligning with their gender identity. This bill could compel many transgender college students in Ohio to alter their living arrangements on campus, could reveal transgender students’ identities to their peers, and could lead to harassment of cisgender, gender-nonconforming students across the state who are mistaken for being trans. Additionally, policies that push transgender students to use gender-neutral bathrooms often face the challenge of insufficient facilities access. For instance, Cam Ogdon, a transgender student at Columbus State Community College, noted that the closest gender-neutral public restroom to her student lounge is located across the street in a parking garage. The entire college campus only has 8 gender neutral bathrooms.

On Wednesday, the Senate Government Oversight Committee will hear HB68, a gender affirming care ban for transgender youth. These bills have been one of the focal points for Republicans who have made trans issues central to their campaigns, leading to the families of trans youth being forced to flee several states in order to obtain their healthcare. The bill has already passed the House, and is the closest of any of the bills into being signed into law.

Many activists and journalists have noted the timing of these hearing announcements. David DeWitt, the editor-in-chief of the Ohio Capital Journal, said, “Bans on drag shows and trans health care in other states have been struck down by courts as being unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment and equal protection. But that’s not going to stop Ohio GOP lawmakers, angry after defeat and looking to bully whoever they can.”

In response to the barrage of bills, Rachel Coyle, Founder of “How Things Work At The Statehouse,” commented on Twitter, stating that the Republican party has reacted to “newly minted abortion rights with……….anti trans bills galore.”

These bills indeed come after major GOP priorities targeting abortion and transgender rights failed both within the state and nationwide. On Tuesday, Ohio’s Issue 1 passed, which enshrines abortion rights into the state constitution. Conservative candidates for school board races endorsed by groups like Moms For Liberty went from controlling 9 of 14 Pennsylvania school boards to only 3 of 14, according to Red, Wine & Blue founder Katie Paris. She went on to remark on twitter that over 73% of “extremist candidates” had lost their election. Many of these candidates endorsed bathroom bans similar to HB183.

Following their recent statewide election setbacks and discontent with the passage of abortion rights, Ohio Republicans seem to be intensifying their focus on culture war issues. Their swift shift to targeting transgender individuals in the state suggests they might view this as a strategy to compensate for their loss on the abortion front. However, this approach may lack substantial merit. There is scant evidence that trans issues favorably motivate Ohio voters, and ample evidence suggests that the Ohio Republicans’ persistent, intense focus on transgender matters might actually alienate those same voters who see it as a harmful partisan diversion from issues of genuine concern to Ohioans.

This piece was republished with permission from Erin In The Morning.

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