Friday, January 27

“It’s wrong and cruel.” – Rep. Mary Lightbody wants to ban conversion therapy on Ohio minors; needs your help to do it

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Representative Mary Lightbody has her work cut out for her.

Representative Mary Lightbody

As a Democrat in the Ohio House of Representatives where Republicans have a supermajority and a gerrymandered new district map only serves to cement that conservative vice-grip, she knows that she has an uphill battle with any bill she puts forth.

But as a career educator, good luck trying to stop the Franklin County rep from making a difference.

In one of her latest legislative efforts to protect Ohio’s youth, Lightbody introduced HB 420, a bill to “protect minors by prohibiting certain licensed health care professionals from engaging in conversion therapy when treating minor patients.”

Referred to the Health Committee in late September, the bill would prevent health care professionals from using this universally discredited and condemned practice on Ohio’s vulnerable youth. But without your help, the bill may never get a hearing.

The Buckeye Flame spoke with Representative Lightbody about her path to public service, gerrymandering, and what you (yes YOU!) can do to help her ban conversion therapy on minors.

For our readers who don’t know, you have a bit of a different path than other elected representatives. Is that fair to say?
It is. This is my 30th year as a teacher. I still am on the faculty at Ohio State on the Newark campus. But yes, I have had a different path. I went to Harvard and my undergraduate major was Asian Studies. I spent 4 years studying Chinese because, when I was in high school, I was an exchange student and lived in Bangkok, Thailand for a year.

It was. I came home totally in awe of Asian culture. Harvard didn’t have any programs in Southeast Asia, but they had a wonderful Asia program, so I moved up the coast and studied China. But I couldn’t get a job in it.

I married. I started having our family. And then my late husband’s kidneys failed when he was 30, so I was home with him doing hemodialysis for 13 years.

We moved back to Ohio from Massachusetts. We’re both from Ohio originally. He grew up in Tiffin, and I grew up in Cleveland. After we got here, he got a kidney transplant, but he passed away in 2009. And it rocked me to my core and made me stop and look hard at my life. He was only 59 when he passed. I had been doing a lot to give back but I realized there was more I could do.

So I got on the Westville Library Board, and served there for 5  years. I went back to the church, and I got more involved with our congregational church, which is a very social justice-y church. But I still had more time and energy. So I thought, “What else could I do?” Well, I could run for the statehouse!

There was an open seat in 2018.  I had been active and was well-informed about what was going on in the world. And I talked to people. “Am I a viable candidate?” Well, this is my background. “What do I care about?” Well, education, healthcare and jobs. Because of [late husband]Rick’s experience, I have a real passion for healthcare. People really do need high quality healthcare to help them with whatever their medical issues are. And that includes our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors.

Why a ban on conversion therapy and why now?
I introduced the last General Assembly as well, so I’ve been working at this one for a while. I remember 15 years ago, at a meeting after a regular church service, we had a guest speaker who had gone through conversion therapy as a young boy. He described it and explained to us what he had gone through, and it was just heart-wrenching. It doesn’t work. It just harms people. I have had that in the back of my mind for a long while.

(Gavin Young/Postmedia)

I have friends and family members who are LGBTQ+. I’m very aware of how much people who are different are discriminated against. And LGBTQ+ folks are definitely in that group. And I just don’t get it. Anything that I can do to promote fairness—I’m certainly a co-sponsor of the Fairness Act—and especially legislation to protect youth.

Conversion therapy is just cruel. It’s just wrong for parents to force their kids through conversion therapy because they themselves may not accept their kids wishes. My bill doesn’t say anything about what parents can do or what members of the clergy can do with regards to counseling. But please let’s make that counseling affirming of gender and sexual orientation, as opposed to trying to change people’s minds.

How can HB 420 get a hearing?
It’s a question of lobbying the Chair of the Health Committee and requesting that they bring it back up. Friends and people who are supportive of the bill can contact the committee. I do have two Republicans who have signed on as co-sponsors. One of them is Rick Carfagna, who represents the other half of Westerville. I’ve known him for a while. He’s a decent guy. I like him a lot as a person. He also has Knox County, which is pretty conservative, so he has to be pretty careful. But he’s also in leadership, so the fact that he’s on the bill should indicate that there is some support for this.

But you’re right, it’s a hard process to get bills through. Now the root of it, and the root of all of these extreme bills, has to do with gerrymandering. Ohio is really a purple state. We swing a little bit this way, a little bit that way in our state elections each year. We’re a little bit dependent on who is on the White House and a little bit dependent on the nature and qualifications of the candidate.

When I ran in 2018 as an absolute brand-new newcomer to politics, I flipped the district and surprised everyone because they thought it was a safe Republican district. But apparently my candidacy and my qualifications cut through all that.

I don’t represent just the people who voted for me. I represent everyone in my district. I routinely get phone calls from people in my district from people who don’t agree with wearing masks, or who don’t want us pushing vaccinations, or who are pro-guns, or who are not interested in flying the Pride flag over the Town Hall. I meet with them and talk with them to hear their perspectives and to balance that when it comes time to vote. But it’s an interesting job. I learn a lot and I really enjoy it. Except for some days…

Well, let’s talk about those “some days.” I make it a point of watching opponent and proponent testimony when an LGBTQ+ bill comes up. And watching the side that is not for LGBTQ+ equality is usually a terrible experience. It is  profoundly disheartening to hear some of the words said on the statehouse floor, not just from the parade of pastors, but from your colleagues, elected representatives. What it is like to sit there and hear some of that? It’s hard for me to watch it, and I’m not even in the room.
The people who stand up to speak firmly and vehemently for some these egregious bills are really not speaking to me because their speech is not going to change how I’m going to vote. They’re talking to their constituents and their like-minded people across this state through the media.

So, for example, as I’m sitting in my seat and I’m listening as a committee member, as I was for the anti-transgender bill to keep trans youth from playing sports — they call it the Save Women’s Sports Act, which is just ridiculous —  I’m listening to the sponsor, and I’m just biding my time and waiting for the opportunity to ask a couple of questions. But sometimes the language is so inflammatory that we can’t hold our tongues and end up standing up and trying to speak truth to the other side.

If a member of their community is informed and speaks to them, they’re more likely to listen. So my approach  is to try to talk to people who are bringing forward bills that I don’t agree with. Let’s go out for lunch, or let’s go for coffee, or let’s walk to the statehouse together. Can we just talk? I just try to help people develop understandings of the multiple perspectives, to try to get people closer to the middle.

But the reason I talk about gerrymandering is that Republicans seats, for the most part, are so safe that their actual race is in the primary. And often it’s the most right-wing person who gets elected because the more moderate candidates cancel each other out. So the right-wing candidate ends up being who we have coming to the statehouse. Gerrymandering and redistricting is the most important piece of legislation that we can possibly work on. It’s going to make a difference for years to come.

I will be very up front with you: I’m a professional and can detach from this work. But even as I sit here right this second talking to you, I think about some of the horrible things your colleagues say and I get emotional. And I am again sitting here thinking, “Why did I move to Ohio?” What do you have to say to LGBTQ+ Ohioans who really question how safe and affirming this state is for them?
It’s difficult. It really is. I happen to represent a district that is far more welcoming than any other that I know.  My corner of Franklin County, and Franklin County in general, is more affirming and accepting and safe for people to live here.

But rural Ohio? That’s a different question. As a Democrat, it behooves me to go into rural areas and talk to the LGBTQ individuals who live there, to talk to the minorities who live there, to talk to the white people who are struggling with employment issues or can’t afford childcare. They’re waiting to be heard and I don’t think the Republicans are talking to them.

We need to step into that void and start expanding our reach into the more rural areas of Ohio to those who aren’t being given the opportunity to be heard.

What can our readers do to help you ban conversion therapy on minors here in Ohio?
Constituents for any member of the committee will have a stronger voice with that committee member than anybody else will. When someone in my district contacts me, not only do I read it, but I reply to it. And other representatives often do the same.

Any LGBTQ individual or anyone who supports House Bill 420 can help get that bill heard by the Health Committee. The only way we can do it is if there is significant pressure on the chair of the committee, the members of the committee, and on Speaker Cupp. 🔥

Ignite Action:

  • LOBBY YOUR REPRESENTATIVE! Go to this map, enter your address, and it will link you to your representative. Reach out to them. It makes a difference. 
  • Write to the members of the Health Committee and ask them to schedule a hearing on HB 420. 
  • If you have gone through conversion therapy in the last 8 years, Equality Ohio recommends that you fill out a complaint with the Ohio Licensing Board, which you can do here.

About Author

Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He received the 2021 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for the LGBTQ Journalist of the Year from the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. He is the author of "Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew" (2017), "LGBTQ Cleveland" (2018), "LGBTQ Columbus" (2019), and "LGBTQ Cincinnati" (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.

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