COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio lawmakers made their cases Wednesday at the Statehouse for a bill banning trans students from using a restroom aligned with their identity at schools and universities.

House Bill 183 would prohibit schools from allowing trans students to use a bathroom that doesn’t correspond with the gender assigned to them at birth. The bill states institutions are required to set separate facilities based on a student’s “biological sex,” meaning “the sex listed on a person’s official birth record.”

“No school shall permit a member of the female biological sex to use a student restroom, locker room, changing room, or shower room that has been designated by the school for the exclusive use of the male biological sex,” the bill states. 

Rep. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) and Rep. Beth Lear (R-Galena) during the bill’s first hearing on Wednesday said that school superintendents have lobbied for such measures and said the legislation is necessary to protect women from being assaulted by “biological males.” Lear also said that modern education teaches children’s feelings should be “constantly affirmed,” including feelings of identity regardless of whether they are “rooted in reality.”

“Boys cannot become girls, and girls cannot become boys,” Lear said. “The modern issue of gender is not a social construct, but the idea you can change your gender is.”

This is in spite of a study from the UCLA School of Law that found no evidence that allowing trans people to use public facilities that align with their gender identity increases safety risks. It also goes against the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy on caring for trans children that independently defines sex and gender identity, which “develops over time, much the same way as a child’s physical body does” and “can be fluid, shifting in different contexts.”

Maria Bruno, public policy director of Equality Ohio, called the bill part of a “concerted effort to basically chase trans people out of public life,” and said the organization has heard the opposite feedback when inquiring with school districts.

“It’s really frustrating to listen to someone so full-throatedly blame a small marginalized group of people, based on largely what we can tell, misunderstanding of science and statistics,” Bruno said.

HB 183 also prohibits schools from letting students share overnight accommodations with students of the opposite “biological sex.” Institutions would still be allowed to offer single-use facilities and the bill would not apply to children under 10 being assisted by a family member, or to someone helping a student with a disability.

Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst) questioned why the bill would apply to both K-12 schools and universities, instead of proposing two separate bills with appropriate parameters. While students in higher education are adults, Bird said the issue “is a problem in both areas” and claimed there are many college-aged students who “feel unsafe.”

Rep. Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus) said the rationale for HB 183 — fear of assault and exposure — mirrors Jim Crow laws introduced in the Southern U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that enforced racial segregation. Jarrells also said 36% of trans people experience sexual assault after policies are enacted governing which bathrooms they must occupy.

“Our women and our girls are unsafe,” Lear said in response. “There’s no equity for them when they’re told that somebody who looks like a woman but isn’t a woman and is a man comes into their private space.”

The legislation marks the first statewide proposal in Ohio aiming to restrict bathroom use by trans students. However, the debate has been elevated to a federal court in Ohio after Dayton-area parents and students sued a school district for allowing trans students to use communal restrooms consistent with their gender identity. 

HB 183 is part of a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed nationwide in 2023. Ohio is one of nearly two dozen states introducing hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in legislatures across the nation. 

The Ohio House passed a bill in June to ban healthcare professionals from providing treatment known as gender-affirming care to trans children in the state and requires mental health professionals to screen patients for abuse and comorbidities before diagnosing gender dysphoria.

Representatives amended the legislation to include House Bill 6, named the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” The bill would bar trans girls from taking part in female athletics and override the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s trans student-athlete policy adopted during the 2015-16 school year.

The “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” also passed by the Ohio House, would require teachers to notify parents before teaching “sexuality content” and of any change in a student’s mental, emotional or physical health. Rep. D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron) and Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton) reintroduced the bill earlier this year after that legislation also failed to pass the General Assembly last year.

Most recently, lawmakers proposed a bill similar to an unconstitutional Tennessee law to prohibit drag queens’ performances in public or where children are present.

Introduced in July, the bill bans “adult cabaret performances,” defined as a show “harmful to juveniles” that features “entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different from the performers’ or entertainers’ gender assigned at birth.” The bill would prohibit these shows in all locations other than “adult cabarets,” meaning “a nightclub, bar, juice bar, restaurant, bottle club or similar establishment.”