Recent anti-queer legislation prompts community members to share their experiences and take action.
BY EMILY AYARS ’24 AND ADELAIDE PETRAS ’24
LGBTQ+ is an abbreviation that pervades modern society and has recently dominated the headlines of America with controversial legislative proposals. This umbrella term is in constant battle within courtrooms and in the streets, advocating for a place in society.
Upper Arlington is not unfamiliar with the queer community. Groups and individuals are continuing to diversify the community as both adults and students advocate against the discrimination and exclusion of those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
As the support for inclusion of all identities grows, cities like Columbus and Upper Arlington are altering and adjusting their views of diversity. Awareness for equality is being instilled throughout communities across the country and the planet.
So how is Ohio, and more specifically Upper Arlington, adapting to this modern culture and its recognition of identity?
Record numbers of anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been in- troduced this year, with over 400 bills having been brought before state legislatures across the U.S. This is a significant increase from 315 bills in 2022, all of which were deemed “anti-equality” by the Human Rights Campaign. However, only 29 of those 315 bills became law.
Much of this legislation targets trans youth, as gender-affirming healthcare for minors and trans children in sports have been hot-button topics in the media and government in recent years.
“I think transphobia is definitely in right now,” junior Inés Burgoyne said. “It’s targeting kids, and I think we’ve already kind of seen restrictions, not just in legislation, but like, social restrictions that now I feel and a lot of my trans friends are scared [of]. I’m a little scared now.”
On the other hand, states are increasingly passing laws categorized as “pro-equality” in an attempt to combat anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. For example, half of states prohibit insurance exclusions for transgender people seeking gender-affirming care. Similarly, nearly half of states have partial or complete restrictions on conversion therapy, which is the pseudoscientific practice of attempting to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity.
Despite victories for pro-LGBTQ+ advocates, anti-queer bills are still being considered in nearly every state. The American Civil Liberties Union is currently tracking 5 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the Ohio legislature, all of which are being discussed in committee.
House Bill 68, the Saving Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) bill, disallows most types of gender-affirming treatment for individuals under the age of 18 and outlines penalties for healthcare providers who violate these restrictions. Physicians are prohibited from “perform[ing] gender reassignment surgery on a minor individual” and “prescrib[ing] a cross-sex hormone or puberty blocking drug for a minor individual.” SAFE’s primary sponsor is Republican Representative Gary Click.
“Gender affirming healthcare has been shown to reduce the suicide rate in trans youth, so I think that taking that away could actually end up killing trans youth, and I think that’s really, really awful and, frankly, gross that legislators are passing this stuff,” senior Katniss Weisberg, who is trans, said. “Gender affirming health care is widely accepted. I know that the American Academy of Pediatrics and several other organizations in the U.S. have endorsed [it].”
House Bill 6, the Save Women’s Sports Act, regards the separation of sports in schools, state institutions of higher education and private colleges by biological sex. These institutions cannot “permit individuals of the male sex to participate on athletic teams or in athletic competitions designated only for participants of the female sex.” The bill’s primary sponsor is Republican Representative Jena Powell.
“It’s going to make a lot of trans students feel like they aren’t welcome,” Weisberg said. “And there’s already guidelines in place to make sure that sports competitions are fair. Generally, I believe, you have to be on hormone therapy, which negates a lot of the weird advantage stuff that conservatives are talking about.”
House Bill 8, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, provides parents the right to review and opt their students out of instruction in “sexually explicit” subject areas. HB8 is labeled as anti-LGBTQ+ because some parents will likely use this right to prevent their children from learning about sexuality and gender identity. The bill’s primary sponsors are Republican Representatives D.J. Swearingen and Sara P. Carruthers.
Senate Bill 83, the Higher Education Enhancement Act, bans mandatory Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training as well as bans public positions on controversial issues for staff of higher education institutions, among other actions. SB83’s primary sponsor is Republican Senator Jerry Cirino.
House Bill 151 is a version of SB83 and is sponsored by Republican Representatives Steve Demetriou and Josh Williams.
“I am dismayed by repeated attacks on the LGBTQ community,” Upper Arlington City Council Representative Kathy Adams said. “I don’t understand why it is such a favorite topic, over and over, for attack.”
Within Upper Arlington, community members have taken action in advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and awareness by creating groups like Rainbow UA. Started by Kathy Adams and Upper Arlington resident and social worker Erin Bonnell, Rainbow UA works to provide support and education of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as celebrate and honor it.
“I wanted to do something…so that young people now won’t have to wait to be their true, authentic selves, like I did,” Adams said. “I want students to feel comfortable and supported so they can live their truth.”
The idea behind the community group formed when an anonymous Instagram account that posted a series called “Dear UA Schools” was created. The purpose of the profile was to allow students to bring awareness and describe instances of discrimination to light.
“Students described being subjected to similar slurs that were around when I was growing up,” Adams said. “I wanted to do something about it.”
Since their foundation in 2020, Rainbow UA has put on two successful Pride events within Upper Arlington. They have also worked with the UA school district in providing educational opportunities that create a safe environment for all students. Additionally, Rainbow UA works with businesses that are allies or run by LGBTQ+ people in the area.
“We do feel that this [group] was something that was missing. I have talked to many parents and individuals who have thanked us for this group,” Bonnell said.
But though many community members commend the work and effort of Rainbow UA, there are those who have condemned the group. The group has faced backlash from those whose beliefs don’t align with what this group is advocating for.
“We get questioned about ‘indoctrinating kids,’ which is not true,” Bonnell said. “I remember at the [Labor Day] Arts Festival last year being questioned by a woman about the group and continuing to ask the same question as she never liked my answers.”
Adams, as a member of City Council, said she had also faced much negativity openly being a part of the queer community in the public eye.
“I was targeted early on when I was campaigning, so I did get scared for a while after that,” Adams said. “It was interesting to talk to residents who would say things about the bathrooms at the high school and make negative comments about LGBTQ individuals.”
But the overall response to the consistent effort in incorporating the queer community into Upper Arlington has been optimistic for the future.
“Our Facebook page has over 800 members and our Pride events continue to grow every year,” Bonnell said.
Adams also comments on the connection she’s been able to make with other people in UA who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community because of her chair on city council.
“I had far more positive, and deeply meaningful conversations with our LGBTQ residents when I was door knocking, and with so many families with LGBTQ students,” Adams said. “I am proud to provide LGBTQ representation. I was never a loud person before, but I’m not afraid anymore.”
The consistent diversification of Upper Arlington is transforming the community and opening up residents to new opportunities and connections. UA’s acceptance of the queer community’s presence continues to increase because of groups like Rainbow UA and representatives like Adams.
In support of the LGBTQ+ community, Rainbow UA is putting on their third annual Pride event on June 11 from 1-5 p.m. on the Mallway outside of Jones Middle School.
“I think we are a small part to continue to help make UA more diverse and welcoming to everyone,”Bonnell said.
As support for the LGBTQ+ community increases in the U.S., so does the number of “out” queer people; as of February, 7.1% of adults identified as LGBTQ+, twice as many as the figure from 2012. In Ohio, 4.3% of adults identify as LGBTQ+.
A portion of this population exists, of course, in Upper Arlington. But the LGBTQ+ community is more than just a statistic — it consists of real people with unique experiences.
According to some, Upper Arlington has made strides in terms of inclusivity. Despite this, many believe that the community is not yet finished with their work in this area.
“I believe that there’s definitely a lot of work to be done,” Weisberg said. “I personally haven’t had a whole lot of negative experiences, but there’s certainly a whole lot of work to be done.”
Burgoyne concurs, attesting to personal experience.
“In school, I definitely don’t feel like I can be fully myself in classes and stuff because homophobia is pretty rampant, like you hear in the halls, but also like in a kind of more general sense,” Burgoyne said.
Some students report feeling isolated in various ways due to their identities, whether subtly or blatantly.
“I did go to a school board meeting and speak about queer issues,” Weisberg said. “It was very noticeable that some people were clapping for me and like some people weren’t — just a very clear divide there. So that was inter- esting.”
Even if a student is not being directly discriminated against, it is possible that social norms make them feel uncomfortable expressing themselves in a way that is true to their identity.
“I think, this year, I feel like it’s just too much work to try to explain [my identity] to teachers and to my peers because it’s too much emotional investment and I’m not getting much in return. I’m putting myself out there, and it makes me more vulnerable than it does bring me more peace or acceptance,” Burgoyne said. “So in a way I’ve kind of like socially detransitioned this year.”
Small social shifts can make an enormous difference in the way queer students are received.
“I definitely wish that teachers would introduce themselves with their pronouns more. Little things like that could really take this community from being fair at queer issues to very good. I don’t think it’s quite at that level, yet,” Weisberg said.