Ohio debates law to require teachers to 'out' transgender students to parents

PHOTO: A crowd waves rainbow flags during the Heritage Pride March in New York, June 28, 2015.PlayKathy Willens/AP, FILE
WATCH Ohio debates law to require teachers to 'out' transgender students to parents

Transgender rights advocates in Ohio are fighting a Republican bill at the state level that would require teachers to “out” transgender students to their parents.

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Critics say that if the bill becomes law, it would essentially turn educators into "gender cops."

Proponents of the bill claim it will protect parental rights in the state and allow parents to dictate what is in their child’s best interest.

Ohio House Bill 658 would require government entities, including schools, courts and hospitals, to “immediately” notify parents if a child displays signs of gender dysphoria or “demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner opposite of the child's biological sex,” according to the proposal.

Introduced by Republican Reps. Tom Brinkman and Paul Zeltwanger, the bill also gives parents the right to “withhold consent for gender dysphoria treatment or activities that are designed and intended to form a child’s conception of sex and gender.”

Opponents say that if it becomes law, the initiative could endanger children's lives.

“In targeting transgender children, the bill authors create a ridiculous and unenforceable requirements –– requirements that out transgender students and create a significant threat of bullying and reduced access to social support systems,” LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Ohio said in a statement. “This unnecessary and discriminatory bill does nothing to support youth and families. In fact, it puts the livelihoods of some of our most vulnerable youth –– transgender youth –– further at risk with bullying and discrimination by potentially forcing teachers to out them.”

PHOTO: Revellers standing on Seventh Avenue watch the annual Pride Parade on June 24, 2018 in New York City.Kena Betancur/Getty Images
Revellers standing on Seventh Avenue watch the annual Pride Parade on June 24, 2018 in New York City.

If House Bill 658 were to become law, Ohio would have to “deputize its state employees to be gender cops,” the organization said, calling the provision “dangerous for Ohio families.”

"The state policing of behavior opens a can of worms. Who is the judge of which gender is allowed to do what?" Equality Ohio asked. "If Jane signs up for shop class, will her parents receive a government letter? If Jordan doesn’t want to play football, do his parents get a letter? What if Alex wants to attend a meeting of the student LGBTQ group – –does the school email that to Alex’s parents?"

Other transgender advocacy groups have also pushed back against the bill, including some who said it could be harmful to transgender children who don’t feel safe at home.

Chris Cicchinelli, founder of the Living with Change Foundation in Cincinnati, called the bill anti-transgender and discriminatory. He said he was inspired to fight for transgender rights when his daughter began transitioning.

"Instead of worrying on the educational path of life, now they're working on their gender path, now they're working on their sexuality," Cicchinelli said. "This is really a ridiculous piece of legislation."

Nearly 37 percent of transgender people attempt suicide before the age of 24 and those who feel rejected at home or school are even more likely, according to data from the National Center for Transgender Equality.

PHOTO: Revellers standing on Seventh Avenue watch the annual Pride Parade on June 24, 2018 in New York City.Kena Betancur/Getty Images
Revellers standing on Seventh Avenue watch the annual Pride Parade on June 24, 2018 in New York City.

“Because youth spend the majority of their time in school, their experiences in the classroom, in the halls, at lunch and during extracurricular activities can have a critical impact on their overall health and well-being,” the Human Rights Campaign said in its 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report. “For too many LGBTQ youth, the real and perceived fear of rejection is compounded by the negative comments they hear about the LGBTQ community from their parents or family members.

“These negative attitudes and beliefs may make them reluctant to come out or disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to their families,” it added.

Brinkman, one of the bill’s two sponsors, said he was inspired to draft the bill in February when a Cincinnati juvenile court awarded a couple custody of their 17-year-old grandchild because the teen’s parents denounced hormone replacement therapy.

“They should have that responsibility,” Brinkman told local reporters last week. “And if somebody doesn't like it, you're emancipated at age 18 and you can go do whatever the heck you want.”

Brinkman and Zeltwanger did not immediately respond to ABC News' requests for comment.

House Bill 658 received its first hearing from the House’s Community and Family Advancement committee last Wednesday, pushing it one step closer to a possible vote in the state’s general assembly.

Aaron Baer, President of the Citizens for Community Values organization in Ohio, says he plans to do all he can to ensure that the bill becomes law.

"Already, the spin machine about this bill is in the works, claiming it’s an anti-transgender bill, but it’s not," Baer said. "It’s an intact families bill. It’s a bill that affirms the importance of moms, dads, and children."

He said supports the bill because it prevents public schools from "intentionally keep parents in the dark about a child’s struggle with gender dysphoria."

"If we can all agree that intact families matter, and that taking children away from their parents is catastrophic, then we should all be able to agree that Ohio must pass the Parents’ Rights Act," he said, pointing to the Cincinnati custody battle in February as an example of why such bills are needed.

The bill is expected to go before the state’s legislature in the fall. The debate surrounding House Bill 658 comes as the state spars with the American Civil Liberties Union over a policy that LGBTQ advocates have also labeled anti-transgender.

The ACLU filed a federal suit against the state in March, challenging a law that prevents transgender people from changing the gender listed on their birth certificates.

The policy, like those called for under the proposed House bill, essentially forces transgender people to out themselves whenever they present their birth certificates, according to the ACLU, which called the practice "outdated" and "extremely regressive."

Ohio, Tennessee and Kansas are the only states in the country that currently forbid such changes.

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