Proposed House Bill 616 threatens LGBTQ health in Ohio

Ohio’s House Bill 616  states that no public school, community school or private school that accepts vouchers shall “teach, use, or provide any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade. And older kids can’t be taught “any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

See our commentary on WTVN 10


Proposed HB616 is an LGBTQ+ health equity and public health concern.

The proposed legislation’s language, particularly the phrases “classroom instruction” and “age-appropriate,” could be interpreted so broadly that it creates unsafe spaces for teachers who may be more likely avoid the subjects entirely or fear repercussion from any private citizen that disagrees with them. By silencing teachers, legislation like HB616 codifies oppression. This is unacceptable. Developmentally appropriate K-5 education includes teaching about people and families of diverse identities and structures – that includes LGBTQ+ families and people.

HB616 isn’t happening in a vacuum.

This year, state lawmakers have proposed more than 280 bills that would limit LGBTQ people’s rights. About half target transgender people specifically. In 2018, less than 50 of these bills were introduced.

The slate of legislation includes measures like HB616 that restrict LGBTQ issues in school curriculum along with legislation that would 

    • permit religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBTQ people
    • limit transgender people’s ability to play sports and use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity
    • ban access to gender-affirming health care.

Yet support for public LGBTQ rights and policies prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination is at an all time high. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans support laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Legislation like HB616 does not represent majority public opinion. BUT, it is dangerous, because it creates a hostile climate– especially for LGBTQ young people.

HB616 threatens to widen health inequities experienced by LGBTQ youth.

Approximately 11% of young people in grades 9-12 years old identify as LGBTQ. The CDC’s recent Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES) found that LGBTQ students are experiencing disproportionately high levels of poor mental health and suicide-related behaviors.

  • 2 out of 3 LGBQ high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic (vs 1 in 3 heterosexual student), including feeling persistently sad or hopeless.
  • LGBQ students were more likely to vape and smoke cigarettes than their cishet peers (22% vs 14% reported any current tobacco use).
  • LGBQ students also reported higher current alcohol use (26 vs 19%) and binge drinking (9 vs 8%), marijuana use ( 18 v 12% ), and prescription opioid misuse (7 vs 4%).
  • In 2021, almost 1 in 2 LGBQ high school students seriously considered attempting suicide.
  • 1 in 4 LGB and 1 in 6 students who identified their sexual orientation as other or questioning reported ATTEMPTING suicide  (vs 5% heterosexual peers)

ABES doesn’t reported on transgender and gender diverse students, but from YRBS data, we know that T/gender diverse students are more likely to experience violence victimization, ATOD, and suicidal ideation and attempts than cishet students.

Higher rates of poor mental health, risk behaviors, and suicidality are not a failing for  LGBTQ students. We are failing them. 

Creating safe schools protects LGBTQ students. 

Connectedness refers to a sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging, and can be centered on feeling connected to school and peers. In 2021, Fewer LGB students felt close to people at school (ABES).

This is problematic because, compared to students who were not connected to peers, students who felt close to people at school had lower rates of poor mental health during the pandemic (28.4% versus 45.2); less persistent sadness or hopelessness (35.4% versus 52.9%), and were less likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide (14.0% vs 25.6%) (5.8% vs 11.9%).

School connectedness is also protective across the lifecourse. Youth who feel connected at school are 66% less likely to experience poor mental health and health risk behaviors, including ATOD use and violence in adulthood.

If we know that school connectedness protects students’ health, then we have to create environments where all students can feel connected. For LGBTQ students, this means creating LGBTQ supportive school environments through:

    • Gay-Straight/Genders and Sexuality Alliances
    • Developing safer spaces to learn, work, and play
    • Inclusive curricula

Teaching inclusive curriculum is especially important. LGBTQ+ youth are not often taught about LGBTQ+ history, culture, and people. In 2019, a study by GLSEN found that only half of LGBTQ students could find LGBTQ+ relevant content at the school library or access LGBTQ+ content from school computers.

School environments which are inclusive of LGBTQ+ history + culture are safer learning environments for LGBTQ+ youth. According to the same study,

  • LGBTQ+ students whose schools had inclusive curricula reported hearing fewer slurs and experienced lower levels of victimization
  • They report feeling safer and more accepted in their community (GLSEN, 2019).

Teaching inclusive curriculum also resulted in better educational outcomes.

  • Students at schools with inclusive education missed fewer days of school and had a higher GPA ( vs students whose schools did not cover LGBTQ+ (GLSEN, 2019)
  • Data from the Trevor Project suggests that LGBTQ youth who learn about LGBTQ issues in school are less likely to attempt suicide.

Inclusive curriculum is about more than teaching culture and history… it’s about creating spaces where all youth – including LGBTQ youth and children with LGBTQ parents feel seen, affirmed, and safe, HB616 threatens to eliminate that safety for LGBTQ students in Ohio.

What can you do?

Call or write your legislators. Tell them you disagree with HB616.

Let your local PTO and School Board know that you disagree with HB616.

Talk to your children about why teaching about LGBTQ people and culture is important.

Show community support by joining in a PRIDE event this year.

Donate to a local LGBTQ organization, especially those that serve youth and young adults in our greater Columbus community.

Get to know local LGBTQ healthcare organizations.