Opinion: HB 616 is anti-progressive, too similar to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

Chloe S. Kozal and Chloe S. Kozal

On April 6, Ohio legislators introduced House Bill 616, which some journalists and Ohioans argue that it is extremely similar in language to the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed recently in Florida, with the added element of discussing race in the classroom.

HB 616 is a piece of legislation that is specifically designed to push Ohio’s progress backwards, creating hysteria over schools teaching Ohio children about concepts like diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as gender identity. It also is a lower education version of Ohio’s HB 327, which places liberal arts education in jeopardy.

Legislators pushing for removing educational aspects about identity, history of slavery and other important concepts should be very concerning to all.

Part of the bill states schools must avoid teaching students “inherently racist concepts” like “critical race theory, intersectional theory, “The 1619 project,” diversity, equity and inclusion learning outcomes and inherited racial guilt.”

For Ohio students in kindergarten to third grade, teachers would be prohibited to “provide any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity” and from grades four to 12, teachers should avoid any instruction on “sexual orientation and gender identity that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

While this bill does not outright say that teachers should prohibit instruction on homosexual orientation rather than sexual orientation, some Ohioans argue that the anti-LGBTQ+ bias is still prevalent in what materials Ohio lawmakers are saying are controversial.

Arguably, many of the bill’s “racist concepts” are not taught in elementary or secondary schools anyway, like critical race theory.

However, we should be concerned that legislators want to get rid of discussing diversity, equity and inclusion objectives and historic concepts like “The 1619 Project.”

By opposing “The 1619 Project,” a seemingly hidden message is that Ohio lawmakers want the extremely conservative, Trump-era 1776 Project taught in their classrooms, which is designed to combat anti-American historical revisionism and critical race theorists.

This is a continued trend of anti-liberal education, such as Hillsdale College’s charter schools that are designed to provide a conservative lens compared to “socially progressive agendas”, teach the 1776 project to promote American patriotism and exceptionalism and its president has a close relationship with former president Donald Trump.

Proponents of HB 616 argue the bill is pro-parent and also fights against progressive agendas.

Ohio is diverse, and so are its classrooms. There should be nothing inherently concerning about wanting classrooms to be inclusive to all students. Ohio lawmakers protesting against diversity means that they want to exclude students and teach only heteronormative education. This bill also is arguably fighting against liberal arts education.

Schools should teach about diverse families, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. By excluding discussions about sexual orientation, it shows a message that something is “wrong” about the student with two dads compared to the student with a mom and a dad.

By not discussing sexual orientation, gender identity, and by extension, sex, schools are not preparing students for the real world. Also, teaching students about these topics is so important because they are experiencing them daily, inside and outside the classrooms.

Diversity is wonderful, and even if HB 616 is passed, that doesn’t mean that it will not exist and persist within Ohio’s classrooms.