Transgender students would be banned from using school bathrooms that align with their gender identity under new legislation from Ohio Republicans.
House Bill 183, introduced Tuesday by Reps. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, and Beth Lear, R-Galena, would require K-12 and college students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their sex at birth. It also prohibits schools from letting students share overnight accommodations with the opposite biological sex.
K-12 schools and universities could still offer single-use facilities for students. The restrictions don’t apply to children under 10 being assisted by a family member, or to someone helping a person with a disability.
The measure already has the support of 19 other House Republicans.
“I hear from superintendents. I hear from schools,” Bird said. “They’re truly distressed over feeling like they’re required to allow boys in the girls’ restroom and vice versa. It feels like the time is right.”
The bathroom bill is the latest effort by Republicans in the Legislature to target the rights of transgender Ohioans. The House passed separate legislation earlier this month that would ban transgender girls and women from competing on female sports teams. Another bill would keep transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming care.
LGBTQ advocates believe the ban would make bathrooms less safe for transgender youths and drive their families out of Ohio. Maria Bruno, public policy director of Equality Ohio, said providing access to single-use facilities isn’t enough, as those tend to be staff restrooms that are harder for students to access.
“To suddenly make an issue of this, it’s hard not to see it as them jumping on the national bandwagon,” said Maria Bruno, public policy director for Equality Ohio. “It’s surveillance of public spaces. It’s surveillance of kids in public spaces.”
Ohio joins national bathroom debate
While other states have long debated bathroom use among transgender people, House Bill 183 marks the first significant effort to enact a policy in Ohio.
North Carolina ignited the conversation in 2016 with a bathroom ban and larger prohibition on local anti-discrimination policies. The measure prompted significant pushback and legal action, and lawmakers partially repealed it after sports organizations threatened to pull their events.
That same year, former state Rep. John Becker of Clermont County mulled a similar proposal for Ohio, but he never introduced a bill.
A handful of other states, including Kentucky, Tennessee and Iowa, have since passed laws that prohibit K-12 transgender students from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Kansas went a step further earlier this year and extended the rule to prisons, rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that targets bathroom use, drag shows and pronouns.
“I don’t know why we’re so late to this,” Bird said. “I wish we had come to this sooner. It has been a problem for several years.”
In Ohio, a fight over the issue is playing out in federal court. A group of parents sued the Bethel Local School District in Tipp City last year, contending the school board improperly allowed students to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. The parents are represented by the conservative American First Legal firm.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio intervened in the lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of a transgender student.
“Transgender students all too often suffer from discrimination and bullying,” said David Carey, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Ohio. “The school’s current approach helps to protect them from being singled out, suffering humiliation, and being exposed to serious risks of harm.”
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.