COLUMBUS, OH (WCMH) – The Ohio House State and Local Government Committee held the first hearing Tuesday for House Bill 616, which opponents have dubbed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

According to the bill’s text, HB 616 would prohibit schools from teaching about “divisive or inherently racist concepts,” including sexual orientation and gender identity for students between kindergarten and third grade.

The wording is similar to Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in late March, sparking protests throughout that state and a governmental showdown with Disney World, one of Florida’s largest private employers.

Introduced by Reps. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) and Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta) in early April, Ohio HB 616 would also require any instruction for students between fourth and 12th grade about LGBTQ-related topics to be taught in an age-appropriate way, the bill reads.

Schmidt testified on behalf of the legislation, stating, “This bill will ensure that the classroom is a place of learning, not a place of biased political talking points.”

In addition to barring curriculum related to sexual orientation and gender identity, the bill prohibits the following:

  • Critical race theory
  • Intersectional theory
  • The 1619 Project 
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion learning outcomes
  • Inherited racial guilt

Teachers who discuss any of the “divisive concepts” in the bill are subject to an investigation conducted by the school’s superintendent and are prohibited from receiving credits required to renew their teaching license, according to the bill. Depending on the severity of a violation, HB 616 would authorize the Ohio Department of Education to withhold funds from the district.

Rep. Latyna Humphrey (D-Columbus) questioned the sponsoring representatives, stating, “It seems as if the bill bans ‘divisive and inherently racist concepts’ such as diversity and inclusion.” Humphrey asked Schmidt and Loychik to explain how diversity and inclusion are racist concepts.

Loychik said diversity, equity and inclusion are very similar to critical race theory, stating, “We don’t want to see the outcomes of DEI and CRT within our education curriculum, once those children have been put through it.”

Humphrey pressed further, saying DEI aids in explaining certain issues people of color experience that not every person understands. Loychik responded by saying this bill is targeted toward parental rights and leaves topics like diversity and inclusion up to parents to explain to their children, rather than teachers.

Humphrey also asked if the bill could be seen as government overreach. Schmidt said she sees the bill as a parental rights bill.

“Parents have the right to know what’s going on in their schools and they have a right to have a voice in it,” said Schmidt.

Rep. Michael Skindell (D-Lakewood) also had a line of questioning, stating the bill puts the responsibility on the Ohio Board of Education to define concepts like diversity and equity.

“That’s the job of legislators, to define these concepts,” said Skindell. “Why would we rely on an unelected body – well, part of an unelected body – to do that? That’s our responsibility.”

Skindell noted a “slew” of concepts and issues within the bill that are not defined. Schmidt said she’d be willing to work on amendments to define concepts. Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) ended the hearing, reflecting on the opportunities she’s had to appear in schools.

“Some of the things that happen in those settings is that people ask me about bills,” Galonski said. “Would you agree that if HB 616 were to come up for discussion, actually under your bill, I wouldn’t be allowed to talk with the children and share their ideas and find out from them what they thought about this process?”

Schmidt said since Galonski would be an invited guest, she or any guest would be allowed to talk about whichever topics they choose. Schmidt noted that a guest speaker is not part of a curriculum.

“It looks like I better make my calendar wide open because there is a lot to discuss in the schools, and by no means would any kind of prohibition or any type of censorship be the answer for it,” said Galonski. “People do wanna talk about things and discuss them, and it makes us better people when we sit together and we discuss these things.”