Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Oberlin Students, Administration Prepare For Enactment of House Bill 68, Other Anti-Trans Legislation

Abe Frato
The MRC hosted the first monthly workshop to educate students on the passage of HB 68.

In a 23–9 vote Jan. 24, the Republican supermajority in the Ohio Senate voted to override Governor Mike DeWine’s Dec. 29 veto of House Bill 68, or the Enact Ohio Saving Adolescents from Experimentation Act. When the bill comes into effect on April 23, Ohio will become the 22nd state to ban gender-affirming care for minors and the 24th to ban transgender women and girls from competing in women’s sports in schools and colleges. Despite the veto, DeWine issued Executive Order 2024-01D on Jan. 5, banning any kind of gender-affirming surgery for minors for 120 days.

Along with these pieces of legislation, Ohio Republicans have introduced House Bill 183, which is currently preparing to be reported to the wider House by the House Higher Education Committee. Also known as the “bathroom bill,” this law would require schools and universities, both public and private, to assign bathrooms based on “biological sex.” This means that all-gender bathrooms would be prohibited at these institutions, including Oberlin. 

There is uncertainty about how HB 68 — and HB 183, if it is passed — will specifically affect the Oberlin community because the language in the bill is not yet finalized. Additionally, a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Ohio on Jan. 29 against the section of HB 68 that bans gender-affirming care against minors could block the law from taking effect. Regardless, Oberlin students, administrators, and members of the community are preparing for the possibility of the bills’ implementation. The Oberlin General Counsel, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the Multicultural Resource Commons, and the Oberlin Athletics departments are in active communication with each other. 

“We are working with our general counsel to fully understand the implications of House Bill 68 for our campus community,” the College wrote in a statement to the Review. “We are also watching the ACLU of Ohio, which announced that it is preparing a lawsuit to challenge HB 68 before the law goes into effect in April. While we must comply with the law, we remain committed to supporting our trans students and advocating for their equitable treatment.”

On Feb. 6, during the first week of classes, the MRC hosted the first meeting in a series of workshops called “Coming Together: Discussing Anti-Trans & Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation.” The workshops were created in collaboration with Gender & Attraction Initiatives Fellow Leonard Versola; Program Coordinator for Dialogue Initiatives AJ Johnson; Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies Program Director and Chair of English Danielle Skeehan; Associate Director for Gender & Attraction Initiatives NiK Peavy; and Colors+, a nonprofit from Fairview Park. About 30 students, faculty members, and community members attended the event, which provided information on what the legislation entailed and gave attendees space to process their emotions and brainstorm direct action.

Peavy spoke about the importance of this event as an environment for people to find support, no matter how they identify. 

“I think a big benefit of Oberlin as a college, especially in our students, is how much they care for one another and are building that sense of community together,” Peavy said. “So, for us, it was really important to make sure that we are providing space for anyone, no matter how you identify, to be able to decompress for yourself and learn ways that you can be supportive.”

Coming Together will take place on the first Tuesday of every month. The event will continue to be discussion-based. Peavy hopes that the MRC will use social media posts to keep people aware of the newest updates to the law, and they acknowledged that the unfinalized language of the law makes it hard for colleges to make a definitive plan.

“From talking with other colleagues, a lot of colleges right now are hesitant to say anything, especially because we don’t have the final language on these bills yet,” they said. “It’s hard, and we’re all in conversation to figure out what’s happening and to stay up to date with it.”

Peavy noted that, for example, the original language in HB 68 was going to affect all trans people’s access to gender-affirming care, while the revised bill only affects those under 18, meaning that most Oberlin students are unaffected.

However, students like College first-year June Gormin are disheartened by the College’s lack of public response. Gormin came to Oberlin from the Austin, Texas area after spending part of her senior year of high school advocating against Senate Bill 14, a similar bill banning gender-affirming care for minors. During this time, the facility that Gormin received gender-affirming care from was shut down, she witnessed police brutality and arrests toward  fellow protestors, and she waited in the Texas State Capitol for nearly 12 hours to testify along with others, including children. 

Since she learned about the anti-trans legislation in Ohio, Gormin has been concerned that the College’s public silence goes against the mission of the school — the reason why she chose Oberlin in the first place — and will affect the decisions of prospective students who may feel similarly. She also notes that the law will set a dangerous precedent for other more restrictive laws aimed toward trans adults. Although she has felt accepted at Oberlin, Gormin is considering transferring depending on what the final bill will look like. Because of that, she believes that now is the best time to take action, and hopes to organize a bus to Columbus so that students can protest in front of the Ohio State Capitol. 

“I can’t say that I have positive experiences pushing up against legislature,” Gormin said. “What I can say is that it felt good to exercise my rights to protest and to hear, to let my voice be heard, and to show the legislation that we will not take this lying down, which is what Oberlin is choosing to do. I understand that there are things that are going on behind the scenes. What students need right now — I cannot speak for everybody, but I can speak for myself — is clear representation, a clear plan of action, a clear support system. I think that the school is not doing enough. It’s dangerous to the students.”

Libni López, a City Council member and founder of his own practice, Authentically You Therapy, which specializes in therapy for transgender and nonbinary people, highlighted the role that gender-affirming care has on improving mental well-being. 

“I’m hoping that there could be more visibility on how urgent it is for folks to do something about this,” López said. “For those who submitted public comments, [I hope that] they continue to communicate more about this, that they go out and vote because this has such a deep, lasting impact. I don’t think people really understand what it would mean to take literally life-saving care from trans folks, given that there’s such a statistical difference in suicidal rates, depression, anxiety — just mental health overall.”

Students have planned direct action to help those affected by the law. On March 3, Crafting Change, organized by College second-year Rylan Hefner and College third-years Nora Holder, Nova Gomez, and Maya Amanat, will be hosted in Wilder Bowl. It will feature student vendors and performers, and at least two percent of the profits will go to TransOhio, an organization that provides emergency support for people leaving Ohio because of these bills. Amanat described this form of mutual aid as another form of resistance and a sign of solidarity. 

“Mutual aid not only has direct impact on people in the short term, but it could also be seen as a sort of political statement of where value is being placed,” she said. “It reaffirms the fact that these people are being impacted and they need help. And it shows that we are a community and we are helping each other, and that these people belong.”

The law, as currently written, would also ban transgender women from competing in women’s sports. HB 68 is a combination of the SAFE Act and the Save Women’s Sports Act. The latter was previously introduced in similar bills from 2020–2022, including Senate Bill 132 and House Bill 151, neither of which passed. When HB 68 takes effect, it will override the current NCAA guidelines that require all transgender athletes to provide testosterone level documentation three times during the season. 

Oberlin Athletics, named a 2023 NCAA LGBTQ Institution of the Year, is still working to navigate what the new athletics environment will look like as the wording in the legislation changes. Assistant Athletics Director and Deputy Title IX and Equity Coordinator for Athletics Erica Rau said that there is already a sudden and negative impact on committed transgender athletes and asserts that Oberlin Athletics will continue to support students.  

“We have committed athletes who identify as trans, and until a few weeks ago, they believed they would be heading to a safe community where they could participate in their sport,” she wrote in an email to the Review. “Now, that dream has been shattered. Oberlin Athletics has always been a leader in the LGBTQ+ space within the NCAA and Division III, and it’s even more critical that we continue this work now. While no one still has all the answers, I hope that students can find some comfort in knowing that we are doing our best to protect and fight for them.”

Holder is a former member of the Swim and Dive team and currently works as the team manager, as well as co-chair of the Queer Student Athletes Group. In light of these bills, she notes that, although there’s little that they can do to change the legislation, QSAG will continue to support athletes and build a community with athletes on both varsity and club teams so that they feel supported by continuing events such as Trans Day of Visibility and queer joy photoshoots.

“We’re still going to have community events. We’re still going to continue building on this program long past when any of the current members leave,” Holder said. “There’s nothing in this bill that says we can’t exist still. We’re going to keep pushing to do everything we can to exist and show that, try as they might, they can’t get rid of us.”

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