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Do No Harm? Equality Ohio Takes On Statehouse Attacks on the Rights of Transgender Ohioans

Maria Bruno, Public Policy Director at Equality Ohio

According to Equality Ohio, 2021 was the worst year yet for proposed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Ohio. HB454 seeks to ban gender-affirming care for non-binary, transgender--or cis-gendered persons. Host Dan Skinner talks with Maria Bruno, Public Policy Director for Equality Ohio about the organization’s efforts to improve life for the community it serves.

Maria refers to HB454 as the Trans Youth Gender Affirming Medical Care Ban. Despite the medical community’s (especially pediatric practitioners) considering gender affirming care to be medical best practice, this bill would throw up a roadblock to getting these Ohioans the care they need. As written, it casts a wide net over those who work with young people (nurses, counselors, teachers, coaches, or staff members at private or public primary schools or colleges/universities).

Maria and Dan ponder actual the goal of such provisions. Do supporters of discriminatory bills believe they are “doing no harm”? Are parents and others open to learning? Children’s hospitals around Ohio are reaching out to the bill’s sponsors to educate them.

Those who believe gender-affirming care is child abuse are misinformed. Conversion therapy, however, which tries to talk people out of their sexual identities, has been proven to be harmful. In Ohio, we see ongoing attempts to split the community strategically to dilute political power. There are LGBTQ people in every community--liberal, conservative, and everywhere in between.

All parents love their children and want to keep them safe. Opponents to bills like HB454 can start from a place of love to work with transgender kids’ parents. Conservative-minded individuals who have relationships with transgender people tend to be more open-minded; they pull from their personal experience. Curiosity and empathy are key.

Dan discussed the ways medical education intersects with anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments: some experienced health professionals may need to relearn or continue their education as it pertains to transgender patients. Rising physicians are learning more.

A guiding value of Equality Ohio holds that we should trust LGBTQ+ people to know what they need. Contrary to what some opponents claim, a small percentage of transgender people retransition; that is, they start gender affirming care, but decide to remain the gender they were assigned at birth. The vast majority of those who transition continue to identify with the gender for which they have received care. Reasons for retransition are primarily familial, employment-related, or functions of other social pressures; in other words, they are driven by stigma. Gender-affirming care always begins with mental health first, and is similar to the experience of trying anti-depressant or other medications: some trial and experimentation could be needed.

Ohio House Bill 61 and Senate Bill 132 seek to ban transgender athletes from full participation in all amateur sports (college, high school, middle school). As Maria explains, there is already a process in place. Ohio has established guidelines for transgender participation in sports (e.g. a requirement for a physician’s confirmation and hormone treatment). Maria points out the bans can have Title IX and other civil rights repercussions. Those who posit that “boys playing girls sports” is unfair indicates limited knowledge but genuine curiosity about competitive advantage. These are systemic efforts to eliminate the rights of LGBTQ+ youth.

Equality Ohio has a campaign called #OHIOCANPLAY: Through it, Equality Ohio, alongside partners, allies, and community members, will directly confront the false, negative narrative being spread about transgender youth athletes and encourage all youth spaces to be welcoming and affirming for all. Maria says they are asking partners to submit videos in support of transgender and non-binary youth in athletics. We’d love to see some Prognosis Ohio listeners participate in this campaign within their own communities. If you do, please tag us on social media.

The pace of positive change in Ohio can be glacially slow. In some places, discrimination against transgender people continues (it is ugly and insidious – two high schools canceled LGBTQ-themed school plays, and a middle school banned rainbows). These manifestations of bigotry are rooted in ignorance. Protection for LGBTQ+ rights is a patchwork and there is no statewide fairness act. Legal protections vary based on where in Ohio you live.

Equality Ohio’s Legal Clinic helps those below 300% of the poverty line, and its Field Team organizes local businesses, communities, and faith groups (initiatives like PRIDE festivals). They do advocacy nights every month. You can donate to Equality Ohio here.

More about this week’s guest:

Maria Bruno (she/they) joined Equality Ohio in August 2021 as the Public Policy Director. She leads EO's policy strategy at the local, state, and federal level. Throughout her career, Maria has utilized her legal education and community organizing background to address systemic problems through smart public policy and practical systemic solutions. Maria has been an advocate with the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), America Votes, and the ACLU of Ohio, and has worked on public policy issues ranging from civil rights to affordable housing to criminal justice reform. She was born and raised in Medina, Ohio, earned a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, and a J.D. from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Maria began community organizing in college and continues to work with a diverse array of local organizers and advocates in Columbus on civil rights and anti-poverty issues. Maria also serves on the Cleveland Votes Advisory Board.


Hosted and produced by Dan Skinner.

Editorial and production support from Trish Mayhorn.

Music produced by Kyle Rosenberger.

Special Thanks goes to MD Spicer-Sitzes, Communications Director at Equality Ohio for helping us to set up this interview. Thanks as well to friend of the show Kathryn Poe for connecting us with MD and Maria.

Prognosis Ohio is a production of Prognosis Ohio, LLC.

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