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Students express concerns over Ohio legislation similar to Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill

Some advocacy groups say the bill stigmatizes students and could harm their mental health.

HILLIARD, Ohio — House Bill 616, according to LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, stigmatizes students and could harm their mental health.

The bill as introduced would ban the teaching or providing of instructional materials on sexual orientation and gender identity to students in kindergarten through 3rd grade in Ohio.

The bill has been compared with a recently passed Florida law known as the “Don't Say Gay” bill.

"I've been called a demon, and other slurs too," said Owen Archer, a 10th-grade student at Hilliard Darby High School.

Archer, who participated in a walkout to protest the bill earlier this month, said he was threatened and called names.

"There were people there that threw trash at us. We got water bottles thrown at us and we got threats when walking back from the rally too," he said.

On Wednesday, students in Reynoldsburg conducted a walkout protest of the bill too. "People are being bullied for being their sexuality," said Jaidyn Turner, a Reynoldsburg High School student.

Like Owen, critics are concerned about the toll the bill would have on mental health.

"Two out of three LGBTQ+ students in high school experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. For LGBTQ students, approximately one in four attempted suicides in 2021. That's a really startling statistic," said Dr. Joanne Patterson, an LGBTQ+ health disparities researcher at Ohio State's College of Public Health.

Republican House representatives, Mike Loychik and Jean Schmidt, are the bill's co-sponsors. Representative Loychik said in a statement: "Children deserve a quality education that is fair, unbiased, and age-appropriate."

Some critics of the bill say it goes a little further than Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law.

If passed, 4th–12th grade teachers would also be banned from teaching about race, gender, and sexual orientation in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.

"We have a really robust conversation about what age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate looks like, you can't pass legislation like this without putting teachers at risk," said Dr. Patterson.

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