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Ohio state school board resolution that opposes LGBTQ protections sparks outrage

 The Ohio Department of Education meets at their office in downtown Columbus on September 19. 2022.
Daniel Konik
Ohio Public Radio
The Ohio Department of Education meets at their office in downtown Columbus on September 19. 2022.

The Ohio State Board of Education meeting was packed with 61 people Tuesday morning who testified against a controversial resolution supporting bills and legal actions that they said would allow schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students.

One by one, people who opposed, and a few who supported, the resolution explained their points of view in a three-minute window.

Sean McCann, an attorney with the ACLU of Ohio, said he opposed the resolution saying it "demonizes" a population of students that are already discriminated against. In addition, he and other legal experts questioned the legality of the resolution, especially in the way it conflicts with protections afforded under federal Title IX provisions.

Many who oppose the resolution said it makes life more dangerous for LGBTQ students who already experience more bullying.

Minna Zelch from Geauga County, the parent of a trans daughter, said her daughter and cisgender son, have been targets of physical and emotional discrimination from adults and peers since her daughter came out five years ago. Zelch said the children have been bullied repeatedly and a teacher told her daughter in front of a class that "people like her started the AIDS epidemic."

Ada Wood, a transgender adult, said LGBTQ kids, who are already viciously harassed at school and in some cases not supported at home, will be in serious danger.

"If you pass this resolution, children will die," Wood said.

Some transgender students spoke out against the resolution. Parker Parker, a transgender student at Olentangy High School, plays on the school's girls field hockey team but identifies as a man.

"This resolutions seeks to denounce and strip my humanity, to alienate students like me who just want to be themselves. It seeks to ban transgender athletes from participating in the sports they love, it forces transgender students to use the bathroom that they feel uncomfortable in, it forces teachers to out transgender students to their parents no matter if their parents are accepting or not, it forces schools to exclude students like me when, in reality, schools are meant to be a place of inclusion for all students," Parker said.

Another transgender student, Conner McLaren, told the board she and other trans teens have faced bullying throughout their time in school and said the proposed resolution would make it worse.

"I'm not a divisive concept. I'm a teenage girl who wants to graduate from high school, go to college, get a job and live my life. Please don't make things harder for the community I am here to represent. Don't let our school become one more bully we have to deal with," McLaren said.

Some members of local school boards testified the resolution goes against their district's policies of serving all students. Beryl Brown Piccolantonio, president of the Gahanna Jefferson Public School Board, opposed the resolution and said "it is fueling a raging fire of a culture war where students are already getting burned." She also said this resolution undermines Title IX's purpose of protecting all students.

Eric Resnick, a Canton City School Board member, said his community values and supports all students, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation and have not encountered problems by doing so.

"A school district's affirmation of its transgender students is neither coercive nor burdensome unless you believe that transgender students are beneath your concern or you hold them in high contempt," Resnick said.

But the resolution had some supporters.

Allison Lindsey, of Beavercreek, said biological girls need to be protected against gender-affirming policies. She said her daughter, who has Down syndrome, could be harmed by policies that allow biological boys or men to use restroom facilities designated for girls or women. She also worried about sex-based discrimination protections for transgender staff members.

"Often female students with disabilities need assistance when they get older and have begun their menstrual cycles. Will I be accused of sex-based discrimination if I request that transgender women who are staff not help my daughter with her menstrual cycle at school?" Lindsey said.

Another proponent of the resolution, Stephanie Lang, took issue with instructional concepts — such as diversity, equity and inclusion, critical race theory, and social-emotional learning — which she said creates "toxic culture" and ends up "bombarding" students with gender identity information.

"There is an ever-changing moral code with the acceptance and affirmation of moral perversion seeping into our schools under the guise of three categories: diversity, equity, and inclusion which is used as an accelerant, social-emotional learning which is used as a propellant, critical race theory which is used as a great divider between the oppressed and the oppressor. This creates a toxic culture in our schools," Lang said.

There has not been any evidence found of any K-12 schools in Ohio teaching critical race theory curriculum. But Lang said "grooming" is taking place in schools, on social media and on television.

The sponsor of the resolution responds

Hours later, after the board held an executive session and had considered other proposals on its agenda, the sponsor of the resolution, Brendan Shea, responded to what he had heard earlier in the day.

“It’s awfully burdensome and heavy-handed for the federal government to force every school in the nation to adopt radical gender identity policies to continue to receive federal funds and for the record, it’s the regulations I’m saying are burdensome, not students who trans identify," Shea said.

Shea, a financial business owner who has five homeschooled children, said the federal policy the resolution targets will have unintended consequences. He used an example in which a high school male identifying as a girl asks another girl out. Shea said, if the girl declines saying she only dates women, then the boy identifying as a girl could file a Title IX complaint for sex-based harassment.

“Just as these regulations would sacrifice women and girls on the altar of modern-day transgender theory, so too could those identifying as lesbian or gay eventually be sacrificed at the very same altar," Shea said.

Shea called the new federal anti-discrimination policy a “flagrant violation of parents' rights.” And he ended his response by saying he feels as if he is living in a real-life George Orwell novel. He goes into a litany of ideas that he thinks are “more Orwellian than even the most Orwellian Orwell novel."

Another board member, Christina Collins, said she opposes the resolution because the board is supposed to be there for all children. Other board members questioned the process for debating this resolution.

Impact of this resolution

One board member, Walt Davis, said this resolution is just that — a resolution. He noted the board doesn’t have the power to change laws, enforce laws, only the power of influence.

But there are bills pending in the state legislature that could affect the rights of transgender students to play on a girls' sports team. The resolution also supports a lawsuit supported by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and attorneys general in 20 other states over rules on LGBTQ discrimination and school lunch programs.

If Shea's proposed resolution is passed, it could affect the millions of federal dollars used each year to feed children in the state's schools.

In the end, the board didn't vote on the proposed resolution. But it put the resolution on hold until its October meeting to give board members time to ask or answer questions about the proposal before voting on it.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.