The Dangers of House Bill 616

Max Outcalt, Staff Writer

On June 11, 2013, the Law for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values was unanimously approved by the Russian State Duma, which forbid any exposure to homosexuality and materials that could “raise an interest in non-traditional sexual relationships,” with punishments ranging from fines and business shutdowns to arrests and deportations.


The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television in the People’s Republic of China banned any and all television shows and films depicting homosexuality on December 31, 2015. Any homosexual relationships are entirely banned in public media, and any pre-existing work is censored to remove any LGBTQ+ aspects.


Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida still limit discussion of homosexuality and transgender identity in public schools with their “no promo homo laws.” Florida is the most recent to introduce this legislation, with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (House Bill 1557) being passed on March 28, 2022.


And, tragically, it seems that Ohio has fallen victim to this trend of dangerous and oppressive censorship as well.


House Bill 616 is a proposed bill by Ohio representatives which would limit and ban various types of education from kindergarten to 12th grade. Perhaps most notoriously, the bill would ban any education or discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade, and would limit and ban any instruction, aid, and conversation about such concepts “in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” There are no guidelines in place to determine what exactly is “age-appropriate.”


The bill is being touted as necessary for the safety of schoolchildren. I will not mince my words: this bill will do the exact opposite. If passed, rates of self-harm, depression, and suicide among LGBTQ+ youths will rise higher than they already are. It is a disturbing, ignorant, and repressive piece of legislation, and it is sickening that it and the many other Don’t Say Gay bills cropping up around America are gaining such traction and support. The United States is beginning to look like Russia or China because of these bills, and it is horrifying to witness.


To be fully transparent, I have been trying to write this professionally. I have rewritten this section countless times. But to listen to proponents of this bill laud the ban on any education about sexual orientation or gender identity for kids up to the third grade is maddening. To listen to them praising the limits on discussion about the LGBTQ+ community up through high school is infuriating. Because they do not understand what they endorse.


This bill endorses children being unable to talk or ask questions about their two dads, or their friend’s two moms, or the many other same-sex couples they are almost certainly bound to see and meet in their early lives.


It endorses young teens struggling with their sexualities or gender identities being unable to seek guidance and aid in school.


It endorses the withholding of information regarding LGBTQ+ health, including safe homosexual sexual practices and how to safely adapt to having a non-conforming gender identity.


It endorses the restriction of LGBTQ+ history for no other reason than it is the history of a minority group.


It endorses the banning and censorship of hundreds of stories, whether fictional, historical, or personal, both written and spoken, in schools.


This bill is reckless. It is foolish. It is discriminatory. It is rife with double standards. It is undeniably dangerous.


Allow me to speak anecdotally. I am an openly gay high schooler. A major part of what encouraged me to know myself so well and to be so open about my identity is the access of information about the LGBTQ+ in school. Talking to my middle school history teacher about gay marriage sparked an interest in learning more about LGBTQ+ history. Learning from openly queer and ally teachers helped me feel comfortable in my own skin. Access to the Gender-Sexuality Alliance gave me a community to express myself. And while University School still has much work to do regarding this sort of education and aid, it is far better than what this bill threatens to do to schools across Ohio.


HB 616 also threatens University School, despite it being a private institution. What is taught at public schools very often seeps into US’ educational practices, and if LGBTQ+ information is being blocked at the state level, it does not bode well for what US will be comfortable with teaching. And to clarify – this is not saying that US teachers and US as a school will knowingly and purposefully listen to this discriminatory bill. But US is not a bubble. The outside world truly does influence what occurs in these walls. Public schools will be hit first and hit hardest by HB 616, but the effects it has on US will be insidious.


And while what is written explicitly in HB 616 is frightening, what is truly scary is that the bill does not explain what is defined as “age-appropriate.” I have known I was gay since sixth grade, and if I knew what homosexuality was before that age, I guarantee I would have identified as such much earlier. Sexuality and gender identity have no age limits, yet HB 616 ignores this truth.


As such, the vagueness of this bill worries me more than anything. I already did not learn anything about homosexuality in my four years taking Health and Sex Education, and this is at a private school. What happens to public schools if this bill is implemented? What will happen to the countless LGBTQ+ kids when their education is restricted by such unclear standards? And what about history? Is learning about the AIDS epidemic not “age-appropriate?” The Lavender Scare? The persecution of homosexuals under the Holocaust?


No one can say right now.


It would also be incredibly remiss for me to say that this bill stops at harming just LGBTQ+ students. HB 616 also restricts information about systemic racism, DEIB-centered education, and anything else Ohio legislators deem as “divisive.” Again, this terminology is exceedingly (and seemingly purposefully) vague, which is extremely worrisome for students of color. HB 616 is not just dangerous for the LGBTQ+ community, but for racial minorities as well, and that cannot go unnoticed.


In short, this bill is very alarming. It will harm kids, purposefully censoring often vital information, discussion, and aid. It is meant to erase historically marginalized groups, and it will only result in classrooms becoming less safe, less inclusive, and less instructive. And while I hope with every bit of my heart that HB 616 will not pass, I cannot be confident that the right choice will be made. And that saddens me beyond words.


If you wish to contact Speaker Robert Cupp to express opposition towards this bill, the link below will allow you to do so with an email template provided by the Ohio Education Association. Make your voice heard.