Students object to Ohio’s proposed Don’t Say Gay bill

Alisha Soni | The Chronicle

Modeled after a recent proposed Florida bill, the Ohio House of Representatives has introduced House Bill 616, a bill that would ban discussion over gender identity, sexuality, or critical race theory in grades K-3. 

A version of Florida’s House Bill 1557, more commonly known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, has been introduced in Ohio. Ohio’s Proposed House Bill 616 has caused controversy due to its provisisions, and has even led to outrage and some forms of protest from some citizens, including students from Mason High School like senior Lyra Mamacos. They believe that the adaptation of this bill to all Ohio schools is risky in erasing the history of queer people and minorities.

“It’s in all kinds of ways a step back,” Mamacos said. “Awareness and more information shared on the history of queer people in our country have accounted for so much of the progress that we’ve seen, and educating the younger generations is how we’re going to keep making that progress.”

Both Mamacos and sophomore Alyssa Hill believe that with the onset of such restrictions, a dangerously closed-off mindset could easily arise. With no acknowledgment of queer or racial history, they think that people, especially young people, may end up struggling with the idea of accepting others. 

“When [students] get out in the real world it’s gonna be a giant smack in the face because they’re gonna be like, ‘I didn’t know about these diverse concepts,” Hill said. “I think [the big issues] should be discussed to a certain extent [but people] can’t just ignore it.”

To freshman Jesse Paley, banning any discussion of gender identity or sexuality would also be harmful as many students start to explore their identities. They said that without the ability to educate students in a school setting, it will create an obstacle in preparing children for a diverse world. 

“[Younger people] won’t know that being gay is okay,” Paley said. “It’s not wrong to love who you love. If we haven’t learned about things like that, whether it’s from school, from class, or even talking with friends, then it will be so much harder to come out and figure out about ourselves.”

Over the past few years, the Mason City School district established three focus areas, known as big rocks. The three big rocks – culture, inclusive excellence and personalized learning – are the official values of the Mason community. In the school district of Mason, Paley believes that the bill would attack the big rocks that Mason has tried to build. Paley said that the bans Bill 616 would impose would especially target Mason’s second big rock, inclusive excellence. 

“[The bill] is not inclusive whatsoever,” Paley said. “It’s putting us all into one box. We can’t share the things that make us unique, the things that make us us.”

Although Bill 616 has restrictions for specifically grades K-3, the ban would also broaden to all grades. The bill states that teachers are prohibited from teaching “in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Mamacos said they find that deciding whether or not something is age-appropriate is “entirely subjective.”

“I think that wording makes it very easy for the Ohio School Board to designate what is age-appropriate and what would be appropriate for kids to learn at a certain age,” Mamacos said. “It could be anything that [the school board] decided was not age-appropriate.”

In an effort to voice opposition to the bill, many local citizens and students are attending the Mason school board meeting on April 26. Seniors Andrew Levin and Kaya Rossey plan to protest against Bill 616 at this meeting. Levin said that they have created a petition in order to display visual numbers of the community standing against this bill. 

“We wanted to create momentum around the issue,” Levin said. “The petition allows us to keep this in the conversation, have something action-based that people can do, and again, it shows that there is community support for the [ban of Bill 616].”

As the largest high school in Ohio, Levin said that the Mason community carries tremendous influence. Rossey said that as Ohio faces the addition of this bill, keeping awareness alive is one of the most important ways to protest against Bill 616.

“At the end of the day, our existence shouldn’t be up for debate,” Rossey said. We’ve gotten used to our peers [bullying us], but to see the state [bully us], it hurts in a different way.”

Graphic by Allison Droege