COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Leaders of local organizations and school administrators spoke at the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday in support of a bill banning transgender students from using restrooms aligned with their gender identity.

Thirty-three proponents submitted testimony on Wednesday in favor of House Bill 183, prohibiting schools from allowing trans students to use a bathroom that doesn’t correspond with the gender assigned to them at birth. The bill states institutions are required to set separate facilities based on a student’s “biological sex,” meaning “the sex listed on a person’s official birth record.”

“No school shall permit a member of the female biological sex to use a student restroom, locker room, changing room, or shower room that has been designated by the school for the exclusive use of the male biological sex,” the bill states. 

Rep. Beth Lear (R-Galena) and Rep. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) introduced the bill at the Statehouse on May 23 with 19 Republican co-sponsors. During the bill’s first hearing on Oct. 5, Lear said that modern education teaches children’s feelings should be “constantly affirmed,” including feelings of identity regardless of whether they are “rooted in reality.”

“Boys cannot become girls, and girls cannot become boys,” Lear said. “The modern issue of gender is not a social construct, but the idea you can change your gender is.”

HB 183 also prohibits schools from letting students share overnight accommodations with students of the opposite “biological sex.” Institutions would still be allowed to offer single-use facilities and the bill would not apply to children under 10 being assisted by a family member, or to someone helping a student with a disability.

Brendan Shea, Ohio Board of Education member, said Wednesday the bill is “an issue of safety,” and pointed to precedent set by the board when it approved a resolution in December 2022 that rejected proposed federal protections for LGBTQ+ students.

“It’s an issue that distracts from academics,” Shea said. “I too often hear from concerned parents, constituents and administrators. It’s a distraction for them. Enacting HB 183 will help take that difficult situation off their plate.”

When asked by Rep. Joe Miller (D-Lorain) why Shea “sees trans youth as a distraction,” he said there are “activist administrators in Ohio” who are “happy to have boys and girls go into the same restroom.”

Nilani Jawahar of the Center for Christian Virtue claimed a 2018 study using public records found about 90% of complaints regarding changing room sexual assaults at leisure centers and public pools took place in unisex facilities.

“Women’s private spaces are not to be subject to social experimentation,” said Jawahar. “We ought to be very skeptical of any man who is trying to convince us that he should be allowed in a space where young girls are taking off their clothes.”

Tom Young, Superintendent of Tree of Life Christian Schools, testified the private schools serves students who struggle with gender dysphoria and “schools exist to teach their students their truth.”

“As you know, children in our culture are dealing with many difficult things and their feelings
often betray them,” said Young. “We need to have the courage to help them through how they are ‘feeling’ by guiding them with kindness and grace and with reality and truth.”

More than 110 opponents submitted testimony against HB 183 on Oct. 11, with additional hearings to be held in the coming weeks. The legislation marks the first statewide proposal in Ohio aiming to restrict bathroom use by trans students. However, the debate has been elevated to a federal court in Ohio after Dayton-area parents and students sued a school district for allowing trans students to use communal restrooms consistent with their gender identity. 

HB 183 is part of a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed nationwide in 2023. Ohio is one of nearly two dozen states introducing hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in legislatures across the nation.