Ohio’s State Board of Education declines to vote on sweeping anti-LGBTQ+ resolution; sends it to committee

After four hours of ofttimes grueling anti-LGBTQ+ testimony, LGBTQ+ advocates are calling today’s outcome a win — albeit, a temporary one.

On Wednesday, October 12, the State Board of Education (BOE) of Ohio declined to vote on a resolution officially rejecting Title IX language that would protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination, referring the resolution to Executive Committee.

The “Resolution to Support Parents, Schools, and Districts in Rejecting Harmful, Coercive, and Burdensome Gender Identity Policies” was first proposed by conservative Madison County State School Board member Brendan Shea in September.

The BOE heard public testimony for more than four hours on Wednesday, and 154 people submitted written testimony — 35% in support of the resolution and 65% standing in opposition.

In the Executive Committee, board members will now further discuss the resolution.

LGBTQ+ advocates consider the referral an immediate win for queer students. But it is entirely possible that Shea’s resolution will make a return to the full BOE. 

What’s in the resolution?

The resolution is part of a much larger cultural trend that frames LGBTQ+ students as problems, burdens or threats within the public school system.

Shea’s resolution contains:

  • An introduction that rejects the very existence of trans identity
  • An endorsement of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s lawsuit against the Biden administration to allow LGBTQ+ discrimination.
  • An instruction to have the Superintendent of Public Instruction issue a letter to every school district in Ohio to ignore the application of Title IX protections to LGBTQ+ students.
  • A call on the Ohio General Assembly to pass legislation requiring all teachers and school staff out trans youth to their parents.
  • A call on the Ohio General Assembly to pass legislation banning trans female youth from participating in sports.
  • A general rejection of “harmful, coercive, and burdensome gender identity policies, procedures, and regulations.”

The resolution contained factual inaccuracies

Before Wednesday’s vote, Shea’s resolution was amended by Michael Toal, an Ohio State Board of Education member appointed by former Republican Ohio governor John Kasich.

Toal’s amendment removed some transphobic, homophobic and religious language, along with several factually incorrect statements about sex chromosomes and primary and secondary sex characteristics.

However, the amended resolution still  incorrectly states that “biological sex is one such objective, scientific fact,” and that there are “observable, quantifiable, and immutable differences between males and females.”

Julie Posey, an assistant professor of physiology at Columbus Community College, testified to the contrary.

Intersex people — who might be born with any number of sex characteristics and sex chromosome combinations —  account for about 2% of all births.

“Biological sex is not on the binary,” Posey said. “[Shea’s resolution] disregards all we have learned about sex and development biologically.”

Who supported the resolution?

Outside the meeting, opponents of the resolution chanted and held signs expressing support for transgender students and pleading with the BOE to “keep religion out of public school.”

At one point during the day, witnesses say counter-protestors in support of the resolution became verbally aggressive.

Signs of protest outside of the October 12 BOE meeting.

Inside, many public testimonies offered in support of the resolution also contained misinformation or disinformation around LGBTQ+ people or major medical and scientific inaccuracies.

Notably, dozens of white women spoke in favor of the resolution, many of them self-identifying as mothers, grandmothers and current or former educators. One grandmother spoke about  “a moral decay” in public schools and encouraged a return to “traditional education.”

Several religious leaders, predominantly men, testified against the resolution — many of them using anti-LGBTQ+ religious language during their testimonies.

Aside from one plastic surgeon, no medical professionals testified in support of the resolution. 

Several people who identified themselves as current or former mental health professionals testified for the resolution. However, their testimonies broke from mainstream medical guidelines backed by the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychology, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association.

When Shea spoke to the resolution as its primary author, he used inappropriate language to refer to transgender girls, and offered public support for Attorney General Dave Yost’s lawsuit against the Biden Administration.

LGBTQ+ Ohioans, advocacy organizations opposed the resolution

Dozens of LGBTQ+ Ohioans and their parents publicly opposed the resolution.

Ember Zelch, who is currently the only transgender girl in Ohio approved to compete in sports at the high school level, testified against the resolution along with her mother, Minna.

Josh Honaker, a transgender pharmacy student at Ohio University, also testified against the resolution — sharing personal experiences of violence and harassment while attending a small high school in Northwest Ohio.

“No fifteen, sixteen or seventeen year old should face rape threats just trying to go to math class,” he said. “This resolution would keep educators from being able to protect students from discrimination and violence.”

Another trans man from Ohio, Aaron Demlow, offered personal testimony: “I’ve known I was trans before I knew there were other people like me. I’m angry because I know the pain of not feeling safe growing up. I’m angry because I’m still afraid.”

‘This undermines core values that we cherish’

Representatives from Ohio School Psychologists Association, Equality Ohio, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Ohio Education Association all testified against the resolution.

Erin Upchurch, Amanda Erickson and Mallory Golski — all staff members representing Kaleidoscope Youth Center in Columbus, Ohio — spoke against the resolution and on behalf of LGBTQ+ students from across the state.

Some were busy in school, Erickson said. Others simply were not able to safely identify themselves as LGBTQ+ people in public.

Upchurch even offered a special reminder to LGBTQ+ youth listening in, having heard a litany of harshly anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments during resolution’s public comment period: “That is not the truth about who you are.”

Eric Brown, a Columbus School Board member speaking on behalf of Columbus City Schools, also urged the board to vote against the resolution.

“Columbus City Schools has been a leader in this area — in standing up for equal rights. This resolution undermines the profession and success of the past 30 years,” Brown said. “This undermines core values that we cherish. You would destroy the groundwork and structure we’ve built to combat discrimination.”

What happens next?

After hearing more than eight hours of public testimony over the past two meetings, board member Tim Miller asked that the resolution be sent to the board’s Executive Committee for further discussion.

“The only common thread I heard from people is that these kids exist. There’s been absolutely no discussion on what we can do for these kids,” Miller said. “That bothers me most about this entire discussion. If it goes to committee, I think we’re going to have a more open, honest conversation at this table about this.”

More conservative members of the board, including Diana Fessler, balked at the referral, which passed 12-7.

A reprieve for Ohio’s LGBTQ+ students…for now

LGBTQ+ and student advocates are calling today’s outcome a reprieve — albeit, a temporary one.

“We are optimistic that this referral to the Executive Committee will be fruitful in the coming months and we will continue to monitor the issue,” read a statement released by  Honesty for Education in Ohio — a nonpartisan, statewide coalition of over 40 organizations. 

“Every young person and their family, no matter what they look like or how they move in the world, wants to be included in their school community. The State School Board should be focused on efforts to include, nurture and educate all children, rather than attacking the most vulnerable.”

Other advocates signaled that there is more work to come.

“We are thankful the School Board is taking the time to thoughtfully work through this resolution and we are hopeful for a positive result,” said Maria Bruno, Public Policy Director at Equality Ohio. “We will be looking forward to continuing conversations with board members.”

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