By David Dewitt, Ohio Capital Journal
CW: Suicidal ideation, self-harm, and discussion of HB68 and anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation.
Ohio’s gerrymandered Republican supermajority decided to spend their last day of session in 2023 bullying and victimizing vulnerable children and their families.
Their priorities are abominable. Did they do anything to address the hunger and food insecurity that impacts 1 in 5 Ohio children? No. Did they do anything to protect children from gun violence that is now the leading cause of death of kids ages 1 to 19? No.
What they did instead was to spend their last session before holiday break bullying a handful of high school Trans athletes out of sports, robbing parents of rights to support their Trans children, interfering in intimate family health care decisions, and upping suicide risk among LGBTQIA+ youth. That was the year-end priority of Ohio Republican lawmakers.
Republicans in the Ohio Senate passed House Bill 68 in a 24-8 vote Wednesday afternoon, and Republicans in the Ohio House concurred with the Senate amendments in a 61-27 vote Wednesday night. The bill blocks doctors from providing gender-affirming care to Trans youth, including puberty blockers and hormone therapy, and prevents Trans athletes from participating in Ohio women’s sports. A grandfather clause would allow doctors who already started treatment on patients to continue.
There were only six Transgender high school female student athletes last year in Ohio. Only three were approved to play for the spring sports season. There are approximately 400,000 athletes participating in 7-12 athletics in the state, according to Ohio High School Athletic Association. Those three Trans athletes this past spring represent 0.0000075%.
No Ohio children’s hospital currently performs gender-affirming surgery on those under 18, and gender-affirming care is supported by every major medical organization in the United States. The Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, the Ohio Psychological Association, the Ohio Counseling Association, the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health Providers, the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians, Cleveland Clinic Children’s, Cincinnati Children’s, Nationwide Children’s, Dayton Children’s, Akron Children’s, the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Physicians Action Network, all oppose HB 68.
Now it will be up to Gov. Mike DeWine to decide if he really wants to protect Ohio’s vulnerable children, as he always claims, or if he wants to go along with this cruelty toward them, against the sworn testimony of every major medical and children’s health association, against the testimony of every LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization, and against the testimony of Trans kids and their parents who spent their Wednesday in tears in the halls of the Ohio Statehouse.
He has 10 days to decide, meaning that as late as Dec. 23, DeWine could either follow the science, follow the medicine, follow the facts, follow the psychologists, guidance counselors, children’s hospitals, and the vocally expressed critical human needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, or he could sign his name on to government-mandated bigotry and discrimination against the most vulnerable children in Ohio and their families.
Just before Christmas, DeWine will decide whether to be needlessly cruel, or whether to follow the best available science as well as basic human empathy and decency.
This bill will cost lives
Talk to geneticists, endocrinologists, gynecologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and every respected expert source, and they say the same thing: Intersex, Trans, nonbinary, and other people on the continuum are all part of normal human variation.
But in 2023, 550 anti-transgender bills have been introduced across the U.S., more than in the past eight years combined. As the wider LGBTQIA+ community has gained acceptance, political opportunists and right-wing religious zealots have banded together to harass and target the only members of the LGBTQIA+ family that polls show majorities still won’t accept: our Trans [siblings].
For what? To stoke resentment, scapegoat a vulnerable community, “other” fellow Americans, dehumanize fellow human beings, and prey on forces of hate and bigotry for shrewd political gain. This is a base, primal ugliness coming from Ohio lawmakers. Their fear and intolerance consumes them, and they only know how to punch down, betraying a devastating and fundamental weakness of character.
House Bill 68 is big government overreach into personal health care decisions, violating parents’ rights to support their trans kids, and recklessly increasing the risk of suicide and suicidal ideation in children.
This last point is the most important. This bill, if signed into law, will cost lives.
A National Institutes for Health study has shown that the passing of anti-Trans legislation — more so than their mere introduction — is directly linked with suicide- and depression-related internet searches. The American Psychological Association reports that research overwhelmingly shows these laws targeting access to health care and sports participation have resulted in heightened levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide risk among the Transgender community.
A Trevor Project survey showed that 86% of Transgender and nonbinary youth said the recent debates over state laws restricting the rights of Transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health. Suicidal thoughts have trended upward among LGBTQIA+ youth for the last three years, another Trevor Project study shows, and last year, 45% of LGBTQ+ youth reported seriously considering a suicide attempt. That number was even higher for gender-diverse youth, at nearly 60% for Transgender boys and young men.
Meanwhile, as Scientific American reports, supporters of anti-Trans bigotry laws are using outdated, junk science to dupe the rubes.
Hundreds of Ohioans submitted opponent testimony but, ignoring the experts, the advocates, and the families impacted most who shared their own lived experience, Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman said, “We don’t make laws just for the hundreds of people that come and testify.”
One family’s story
Not everyone who wanted to testify got the chance. Jim Kaster is a Vietnam veteran who describes himself as a church-going patriot and social conservative. In testimony that was denied for acceptance by the Senate committee handling the bill, but provided to the Capital Journal, Kaster said his passion in his retirement is spending time with his two daughters and his two grandchildren, “who are the apples of my eye.”
“The oldest, Avery, is also my best friend and partner in crime. Avery was born a girl, however it became clear from the day he was born that he was meant to be a boy,” Kaster wrote.
“Like many people of my generation and background I was skeptical of people who would tell me that they identified as something different than the gender that they were born with. When I grew up and for most of my life, people who were different or gay or Transgender were the subject of ridicule and jokes. From the infantry to the shop floor at GM to the (Disabled American Veterans) chapters where I spent my free time it was widely accepted that it was immoral or even a sin for a person born as woman to identify as a man or vice versa. I admit that without having any experience with anyone one with gender dysphoria, I tended to agree.
“Then Avery was born and I became a grandfather … No one was more perplexed than I was to directly witness Avery’s determination to live the life that he instinctively knew he was meant to live. It wasn’t Dramatic. It wasn’t political. As soon as Avery could walk and talk it was obvious to anyone who spent any time with him that he was meant to be a Boy. At first we thought this was a phase and I watched as he was forced to be a girl in public. It became obvious that he was being forced to be somebody he wasn’t but Avery would have none of it. He preferred male clothing, he preferred to play with the types of toys and do the types of things that I’ve always associated with being a boy. From birth, he persisted in being true to himself. He did this in spite of a world of neighbors and family members and friends and classmates and teachers and politicians who clearly do not understand. He is willing to do whatever it takes to be himself in this world.
“He’s one of the bravest people I’ve ever met and that’s saying something in light of my military experience.
“I’ve learned so much from Avery. He is my grandson and my best friend. I have no doubt that the gender affirming therapy, which he is receiving after thoughtful and careful research from his parents is keeping him safe, and sane and gives him the continued opportunity to be himself.
“I’m here to tell you face to face that interfering with Avery’s medical treatment would be a tragic mistake. I speak not just for me but for all of the grandfathers who have been lucky enough to have grandchildren who are brave enough to be themselves in a world where everyone doesn’t agree.”
Kaster’s daughter Whitney, Avery’s mother, also provided her rejected testimony to the Capital Journal. In it, which is worth reading in full, she describes all of the moments filled with the nuance and complexity of humanity, where her family has been finding their way through their son’s medical, social, and emotional journey of being transgender.
Entering junior high, Avery and his family decided for him to start from the getgo as a boy, going by AJ:
“Everyday, I was waiting for the shoe to drop. At some point, AJ being Trans was sure to become a topic.
“I was correct. By the end of the year, AJ was outed as Transgender. Again, the school has been very proactive and supportive. AJ sees both a school appointed counselor and a private counselor during school hours. At the onset of his counseling, the counselor reached out and gingerly broached the subject of AJ’s gender. I could hear her tension dissipate when I told her that our family supports him. Regardless of his support system at home, being in 7th grade is tough.
“Just in the past week, his fellow male classmates have made disparaging comments as well as he learned that some of his female friends are no longer allowed to speak to him because their parents do not want their child associated with a Transgender child. I fear this is the tip of the iceberg. Routinely, I talk to the private counselor, because for the past 8 months AJ has been self-harming by cutting. He suffers from anxiety and depression.
“AJ knows this bill is likely to pass and it would limit his ability to maintain his treatments. Every day, he asks me if it has passed. He looks to me to make this right.
“This age for any child is challenging. I guess what I find hard to comprehend is why anyone would want to make life harder for a child. We all know the statistics — we know that transgender children are more likely to commit suicide. So, why are we not doing more to protect these vulnerable children?”
Yes. Why? Why this needless cruelty toward a population Ohio Republican lawmakers have never given one damn about? What kind of monsters take pleasure in making bullied children cry and hurting them and their families in these types of devastating ways under the force of law?
This is a despicable, disgusting, cold-hearted, uncaring, relentless display of unbridled ignorance and bigotry, for no good reason whatsoever. I hope Gov. DeWine is able to find some humanity and compassion in his heart, because in that search, the overwhelming majority of Ohio Republican lawmakers have failed.
This essay orgininally appeared in Ohio Capital Journal on December 15, 2023, under the same title. It is republished here under Creative Commons liscense CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Please visit and support Ohio Capital Journal. You can follow them on Twitter @OhioCapJournal and on Facebook at ohiocapitaljournal.