June should be a month of LGBTQ+ jubilation. But this June in Ohio was a difficult one.
As our community started to come out of 18 months of quarantine and COVID-19 restrictions and celebrated Pride Month, Equality Ohio’s advocacy team was working hard at the Statehouse to defend against some of the most aggressive attacks on LGBTQ+ Ohioans we’ve seen. All in all, with your help, we were able to stop one of the two attacks. The second—a provision allowing medical providers to refuse services they deem to be in violation of their beliefs—was snuck into the state’s budget bill and ultimately signed into law. Now, we are focusing on mitigating the harm that our community experiences as a result of the provision’s passage while pursuing all options possible to overturn it.
Read more about these bills below, and learn what you can do to help.
Transgender Athlete Ban
Let’s start with the attack we collectively were able to stop. On the morning of June 24th, 2021, HB61, the bill to ban transgender athletes from playing sports, had a proponent testimony hearing in the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee. Though we weren’t thrilled that this was scheduled, these hearings are a normal part of the legislative process and allowed those supporting the ban on transgender athletes to testify in support. These are always difficult hearings to watch because anti-LGBTQ+ people and organizations attend and fill the room with harmful transphobia and lies.
When the hearing was over, we expected to be able to focus on the license to discriminate in the state budget because the normal legislative process meant that those opposed to the bill, like Equality Ohio, would have the opportunity to speak against the athlete ban in the fall when the legislature returned from their summer recess.
But the Ohio House decided to go around the legislative process, subverting democracy. They attempted to pass the bill immediately by amending it into another bill, which we only heard would be a possibility around lunchtime that same day. The bill they chose to carry HB61 was an otherwise widely bipartisan and urgent bill that would allow college athletes to make money from their name, image, and likeness (“NIL”). Because this bill needed to be passed before the end of June, anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers, like Rep. Jena Powell, thought that it would be easy to sneak this horrible anti-trans bill past without much of a problem.
Once we knew the amendment was going to pass, we created a way for folks to activate against it and sounded the alarm. Ohio went into full activation mode to support transgender kids, calling and emailing members of the Senate and the Senate president, asking them to reject the amendment. They listened! The Senate refused to take up the college athlete NIL bill again, which left this specific attempt to ban trans athletes defeated. Along with all of the individual Ohioans who contacted the legislature to stop this attack, one of our strongest allies in ensuring we were able to stop it was the Ohio State University. OSU had been a lead entity advocating for the college athlete NIL bill but immediately came out against it when the House added an anti-trans provision. Ohioans supporting transgender athletes and our awesome partners at the Statehouse proved anti-transgender legislators wrong.
The next day, Governor DeWine signed an Executive Order, which did what the original bill sought to do and allowed college athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness. In the press conference for that Executive Order, Governor DeWine explicitly said that he thought the trans athlete ban was a bad idea and that we should protect the welfare of transgender youth. This was an important statement from the governor, and we applaud his stance in support of transgender youth. Though we were able to stop this attempt, we know it won’t be the last. The sponsors of the attacks on transgender athletes are not going to stop, and we need to be even more prepared in the fall to stop this attack on transgender young people.
Medical Conscience Clause
While the House was trying to ban transgender athletes, we were in the midst of another fight. Early in June, we were made aware of a last-minute change to the Ohio Senate’s version of the state budget, which sought to allow medical professionals to refuse services based on their personal religious or moral beliefs. This amendment sought to open the door for doctors, nurses, receptionists, and even health insurance companies to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people and deny them important healthcare services.
Once we learned of this, we activated our community, and you responded in a big way. In just the first few weeks, over 1,700 people across the state emailed House and Senate leadership, totaling over 10,000 individual emails to members of the committee, demanding that this harmful provision be removed from the budget. Unfortunately, the widespread opposition to the amendment—both from Ohioans and the healthcare community—did not sway legislative leaders from removing the amendment in the final version, so it was sent to the governor’s desk fully intact.
After the budget was passed by the legislature, we had one more chance to stop it: a line-item veto from Governor DeWine. When we knew that this would be our last opportunity to stop the license to discriminate, we called on you again, and again, you did everything you could to stop it. Over 1,000 more Ohioans contacted the governor’s office in opposition to the measure in the day before he signed it alone. So many people called his office that we filled up his voicemail inbox, and we had to start emailing him. Despite all of our collective work, Governor DeWine signed the budget with the license to discriminate included—even though he vetoed 14 other line items that day.
Less than a week after he made a strong statement in support of transgender young people, Gov. DeWine failed to veto the harmful provision in the budget. Both of these things are true. Part of the challenge of our work is accepting both of those things for what they are while doing our best to work with anyone we can to protect transgender young people.
This entire process was disappointing for both Equality Ohio staff and our community. We ended what should have been a joyous Pride Month, full of celebration and the beginning of a return to some in-person normalcy, exhausted and disappointed in our elected leaders for passing such a blatant encouragement to discriminate in Ohio. So far, Arkansas is the only other state to pass such a harsh provision.
Now, after some time to rest and analyze, we are coming back to the Statehouse stronger than ever. We are determined to make sure that the legislative loss we experienced in June, which was a first in Equality Ohio’s 16-year history, will be our last. We will also soon be welcoming a Public Policy Director to our team, who will help further our efforts at the Statehouse, develop even stronger relationships with legislators, and continue our work to pass inclusive, compassionate public policy across our state and country, from City Hall to Capitol Hill.
But we need your help. Now, more than ever, we need you to support our work and join the movement to pass LGBTQ+ inclusive policy and protect our community from those at the Statehouse seeking to do us harm. We know more attacks are coming. Just last week, a lobbyist for the Center for Christian Virtue spoke at a church where he told congregants they would soon be introducing a bill to ban healthcare services for transgender youth. And we know that our efforts to stop the anti-transgender sports bill in June will make the legislators seeking to ban transgender athletes all the more vocal. We also know that 70% of Ohians support equal rights for LGBTQ+ people in this state. We need you to keep showing up.
Here are a few ways you can help today:
- Encourage hospitals and other institutions to explicitly denounce the license to discriminate. Ask your doctor’s office to make a statement that they will ensure the provision of any services they offer to all patients via referral or provider reassignment, even if an individual provider seeks to invoke the law to deny providing care.
- Document any denials of services. Equality Ohio is asking that anyone who is denied healthcare services to please complete our intake form. We are working with national partners to document denials of care as we begin to challenge these laws in court.
- Ask lawmakers to repeal the license to discriminate. Legislation to undo the healthcare provision will be introduced by Fall 2021. Once this is introduced, encourage your lawmakers to support it. We will provide additional information and opportunities to engage with legislative repeal efforts as they become available, so be sure you are following us on social media, and are signed up for our newsletter for updates and actions.
- Sign the petition in support of transgender athletes. Show lawmakers that HB61 and SB132 are bad for Ohio and that Ohioans oppose them.
- Submit testimony in opposition to HB61 and SB132. Tell the leaders who will decide the fate of these bills why they are so harmful. We will support you in developing your testimony if you want help. Let us know in the form, and our team will connect with you.
- Volunteer with Equality Ohio. Help us connect with our fellow Ohioans about what is happening at the Statehouse and join our movement for a more inclusive Ohio.
Thank you for being a part of change for Ohio.