Rainbow Rant: Will the Ohio legislature let trans people speak?

Local trans leaders and parents make the case against HB454, which would ban gender-affirming health care for minors

Joy Ellison
Ohio Statehouse

“Are you listening?”

That’s what Kimberly Sue Griffiths would like to ask the co-sponsors of HB454, the proposed Ohio law that would ban gender-affirming health care for minors. As the executive director of Octopus LLC, a Columbus-based trans support organization, Griffiths has witnessed the difference gender-affirming care makes in the lives of trans youth.

“I have seen the joy of these loving parents and their children when I help them navigate the process to change their names,” said Griffiths. “Don't destroy their opportunity to follow sound medical advice and begin their journey with the hormones and hormone blockers that they desperately need and that might just save their lives.”

The Ohio state legislature is refusing to listen to HB454 opponents like Griffiths. The legislature has already taken testimony from supporters of the bill twice and is scheduled to do so again this week. In contrast, the bill’s opponents have not been allowed to speak. Instead, trans people and their allies, including doctors and parents, have rallied outside the Statehouse.

Tyler Quill participated in recent demonstrations even though doing so aggravated their chronic illness, causing them immense physical pain. “I know I personally would have saved myself a whole lot of self-harm and suicide attempts if I had had access to affirming care in my youth,” they said. “In a perfect world, I would have taken puberty blockers and gotten the trauma care I needed.”

Since the legislature isn’t allowing opponents of HB454 to make their case, I asked several people to share what they would say if legislators were willing to listen.

Melanie, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect the privacy of her son, is the mother of a 10-year-old trans boy. “As early as kindergarten he began drawing himself as male and slicking down his hair to make it look like he had short hair,” she said. “It wasn't until first grade when he began writing ‘I am a boy’ on his schoolwork and artwork that we began to realize that he identified as male and was experiencing significant dysphoria.”

Melanie was able to find affirming care for her son, and she said she was never pressured to consent to medical interventions. Now, Melanie said her son is thriving as “a healthy, happy, athletic, popular and well-adjusted child who happens to be transgender.”

Melanie said listening to the testimony in support of HB454 was painful. “It was especially troubling to hear a witness comparing transgender people to dogs and suggest that being transgender is the result of not going outside to play, or being influenced by social media,” she said. “I also take issue with the assumption by sponsors of the bill that transgender children are victims of sexual abuse and have mental illnesses.” None of those things are true for her son, she s

“Bottom line, transgender children who have accepting family and supportive communities and access to gender affirming medical care fare much better than those who don't. And why wouldn't we want that?” she said.

Charlie Stewart, a member of Black Queer and Intersectional Collective (BQIC) and Columbus Community Pride, wants lawmakers to understand the impact HB454 will have on Black queer and trans young people. “The state already heavily polices our neighborhoods. This would give them a way to police our medical records and decisions,” they said. “It’s bad enough that Black LGBTQIA youth have to live in real fear from the state and school shootings daily, but now their bodies, identities and self-worth are being attacked through legislation.”

“As an educator from Columbus, I can say from firsthand experience from working with kids, that trans health care is vital to the educational success of students,” said Corbin Kramer, who works as a special education teacher. “With trans-affirming care, kids and families can succeed. Most importantly, it gives personal agency to youths who desperately need it.”

James Knapp, a lawyer and board member of TransOhio, believes HB454 runs against the principles of a democratic society. “This bill is unconstitutional on its face. It discriminates against the most vulnerable and is an unnecessary government overreach into the private medical decisions of Ohioans,” he said. “Trans children and young adults deserve the same quality of medical care that their cisgender counterparts receive.”

Before voting on HB454, Ohio lawmakers need to hear from the trans youth who will be impacted by the law. Trans people, the parents of trans children and medical experts deserve an opportunity to plead our case. But the question remains: Will the Ohio legislature listen?