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Ohio trans college students denounce proposed bathroom ban bill as dangerous

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Ohio trans college students denounce proposed bathroom ban bill as dangerous

Feb 08, 2024 | 5:00 am ET
By Zurie Pope
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Ohio trans college students denounce proposed bathroom ban bill as dangerous
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Trans students at Ohio colleges are calling a proposed bill from Ohio House Republican lawmakers to ban them from using bathrooms that match their gender identity “dangerous,” “scary,” and promoted by a “vocal minority of hate.”

Introduced by state Rep. Beth Lear, R-Galena, and state Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, House Bill 183 would require students at K-12 schools and colleges to only use bathrooms or locker rooms matching their sex assigned at birth. HB 183 would not prohibit a school from having single-occupancy facilities and it would not apply to someone helping a person with a disability or a child younger than 10 years old being assisted by a parent, guardian, or family member.

More than 100 people have submitted testimony against the proposal.

The bill states, “A school shall designate each student restroom, locker room, changing room, or shower room that is accessible by multiple students at the same time, whether located in a school building or located in a facility used by the school for a school-sponsored activity, for the exclusive use by students of the male biological sex only or by students of the female biological sex only.”

The bill also says, “No school shall permit a member of the female biological sex to share overnight accommodations with a member of the male biological sex. No school shall permit a member of the male biological sex to share overnight accommodations with a member of the female biological sex.”

“Pass this bill and protect ALL students, protect their dignity, protect their privacy, protect their mental health, their emotional health, and their physical bodies,” wrote Lear in her proponent testimony for the bill.

A 2018 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law found that there is no evidence that letting trans people use public facilities that align with their gender identity increases safety risks for others. A study published in the National Institutes of Health in 2021 showed that the arguments that express concerns about safety are not supported by evidence.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association has found that exclusionary bathroom policies harm transgender students. Denying transgender students this access endangers their health, safety and well-being, leads to negative health outcomes, and heightens stigma and discrimination, the AMA has said. The T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard found that 36% of transgender or gender-nonbinary students with restricted bathroom or locker room access reported being sexually assaulted in 2019.

In Ohio in 2022, a Butler County trans man reported being attacked and beaten by a group of men after being advised to use the women’s restroom in a Preble County campground.

The proposed bathroom ban for schools and college campuses — which would force trans people to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity and appearance — has trans college students frightened for their safety.

Trans college students in Ohio denounce bill

Describing the lawmakers and lobbyists behind the bathroom ban bill as a “vocal minority of hate,” Rey Hicks — a 21 year old computer science student at the University of Cincinnati and trans woman — said of House Bill 183, “It’s dangerous. It’s scary. It’s uncomfortable.”

She also spoke about the recent wave of anti-trans laws in Ohio, noting that all together, these laws would “make being trans in a public space legally impossible, emotionally draining, and also incredibly dangerous. It’s a way of legislating away trans people from public life.” 

Ashley Spelic, a trans woman and media arts student at Ohio University, summarized her feeling on the wave of anti-trans legislation coming from the Ohio Statehouse by saying, “At this point, I’m just mad.”

Speaking about the network of LGBTQ dorms and restrooms on her campus, Spelic said, “This bill is going to  obviously disrupt that whole system; that whole safety net that OU has created.”

“All this bill is going to achieve is more hostility in bathrooms, potential sexual harassment in bathrooms, very uncomfortable citizens arrests,” she said. “It’s going to make things more messy.”

Elliot Borgatti, a 19-year-old media production major at the University of Cincinnati and trans man, said the bathroom restrictions would only worsen the experience of trans youth.

“We just really want to go to the bathroom. It’s that simple, it is not that deep,” Borgatti said. “Gender dysphoria can be absolutely excruciating at times. Not giving these kids that access can really be super harmful mentally. The overall school environment, too, will just be more hostile if we don’t let people do what they’re comfortable with.”

Borgatti admitted he was unlikely to remain in Ohio for long.

“I’m getting out of here the second I can,” he said. “This legislation that’s been proposed, especially the (administrative rules) they’re trying to do with adult care, by far has been the most radical proposals for bills among all the U.S. states. Obviously if I’m being prohibited from getting the care that I need, I’m going to have to leave. I don’t really have a choice but to leave.”

For those who can’t leave, Borgatti warned there would deaths caused by the hostile atmosphere these bills create.

“There’s gonna be, unfortunately, a lot of death… There’s definitely gonna be blood on people’s hands here,” he said.

Borgatti himself is a suicide survivor, his last suicide attempt being before he started testosterone therapy.

“I was hospitalized three times for suicide; it was pretty severe. Once I started socially transitioning, things started to improve quite a bit.”

Borgatti said that trans people will continue to exist regardless of anti-trans legislation.

“You can never eradicate trans people, no matter what you do. We’re always gonna be there,” he said.

Nationwide anti-trans movement

Sean McCann, policy strategist for the ACLU of Ohio, noted that the proposed Ohio ban comes out of a nationwide movement since 2015 to target trans people.

“A lot of these bills stem from national organizations that come into different states and present legislators with model language or maybe the legislator of their own volition goes and pulls language from a bill from a different state,” he said. “There are these national groups that are coordinating attacks on the rights of transgender, gender nonconforming and intersex people.”

Utah recently became the 11th state to pass legislation regulating bathroom access for trans people.

Previous reporting from the Ohio Capital Journal has shown Christian fundamentalist group Alliance Defending Freedom played a role in crafting the Save Women’s Sports Act, and coverage from NBC News in 2017 found that many bathroom laws copied language from a model bill the ADF created.

McCann cited gerrymandering as a source for the wave of anti-trans legislation against the advice of scientific, medical, and public health experts. Gerrymandering creates lawmakers who feel no reason to change their views no matter the evidence, he explained.

“We have to trace part of it back to the roots of gerrymandering that empowers legislators with much more extreme views than what many of their districts hold and the voters of our state hold,” he said.