In the wake of a bruising loss on an amendment to enshrine the right to abortion in the Ohio Constitution, Republicans in the state appear poised to shift focus to a different cultural issue: the civil rights of transgender Ohioans.
The state legislature has a roster of hearings on multiple separate bills restricting trans rights lined up this week, including a drag ban, a bathroom restrictions bill and a bill that would ban both gender-affirming care for trans youth and restrict participation in sports for trans youth and adults.
The authors of House Bill 245, the drag ban, describe the bill as being intended to “prohibit adult cabaret performances in places other than adult cabarets.” But its definition of “adult cabaret performances” is sweeping, including “performers or entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different from the performer’s or entertainer’s gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”
That definition would ban not just drag performances in spaces that include minors, but would also effectively ban any trans person from performing in front of minors.
The bill makes it a misdemeanor to expose teenagers between 13 to 18 to its definition of “adult cabaret performances,” and makes it a felony to host such performances in front of children under 13.
The bathroom bill, HB 183, would ban trans adults and children from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity in K-12 schools as well as on college campuses.
Finally, HB 68 would ban all gender-affirming care — including hormone treatments and puberty blockers — for trans minors, with an exception for individuals with what it calls a “verifiable disorder of sex development.” It would also require K-12 schools, as well as both public and private universities within the state, to ban trans girls and women from playing girls’ and women’s sports. HB 68 has already passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is now up for consideration in the Republican-controlled state Senate.
The House of Representatives will hold hearings on Tuesday, Nov. 14, for HB 245 and HB 183, while the Senate will hold its hearing on HB 68 the following day.
Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine hasn’t said whether he plans to sign the bills should they reach his desk. When a journalist for NBC4 Columbus asked him about HB 68 in April, he appeared not to take a position.
“I’ve learned a long time ago that these bills change all the time,” he told the news station at the time. “And so, we’re going to see what comes out of the legislature. We’re going to look at the bill and make a judgment at that time.”
On both abortion and trans rights, GOP lawmakers appear willing to push the limits of legality.
Issue 1, the abortion rights constitutional amendment, passed on Nov. 7 with 56.6% of the vote, despite GOP opposition. But Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives released a statement two days later stating that they would try to remove the amendment from oversight by state courts, which has a Republican majority.
“To prevent mischief by pro-abortion courts with Issue 1, Ohio legislators will consider removing jurisdiction from the judiciary over this ambiguous ballot initiative,” the statement said. “The Ohio legislature alone will consider what, if any, modifications to make to existing laws based on public hearings and input from legal experts on both sides.”
On trans rights, legislation can and probably will be subject to litigation at the federal level, but that appears not to be a concern for Ohio Republicans, for now.
“Bans on drag shows and trans health care in other states have been struck down by courts as being unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment and equal protection,” David DeWitt, editor-in-chief of the Ohio Capital Journal, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “But that’s not going to stop Ohio GOP lawmakers, angry after defeat and looking to bully whoever they can.”