Kent graduate professor helps students take action against House Bill 658

The Ohio House floor in Columbus during a session on March 11, 2008. Joshua Rothhaas (Flickr)

A Republican member of the House of Representatives introduced a bill back in May that would change laws surrounding the treatment of trans children statewide.

, dubbed the “Parents’ Rights Bill” by its sponsor Thomas Brinkman (R) of the 27th District, will shift the decision-making power for trans minors further into the hands of parents.

“The parents, guardian, or custodian of a child shall not be subject to adverse action as a result of the refusal to permit gender dysphoria treatment, or refusal to provide written, informed consent for such treatment,” the bill reads.

“Parents have the right to decide what’s best for their children,” Brinkman said in an interview with Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT5.

In February, a Hamilton County judge granted custody of a trans teen to his grandparents after a court battle. He testified his parents’ refusal to allow him to undergo hormone therapy led to suicidal feelings.

The ruling, as part of a perceived stripping of parental rights, raised conservative eyebrows in the Ohio House and largely inspired the bill.

Along with immunity of punishment for parents, the bill requires government employees, including teachers and guidance counselors, to report “knowledge that a child under its care or supervision has exhibited symptoms of gender dysphoria or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner opposite of the child’s biological sex,” in writing, to each of the child’s parents and/or guardians.

“I thought it was fake , to be fair,” said Emmett Drugan, a graduate student in clinical mental health counseling. “I was pretty angry too. I was like, ‘oh, hell no,’ because, previously being a teacher you build rapport with your students and … sometimes they need someone to talk to, or help them through things and they’re not going to trust you if they know that, for whatever reason, you’re just going to go to their parents about something that’s really personal to them and that they’re trying to work through.”

Drugan also said he feels, as someone pursuing a degree in counseling, the legislation will make it nearly impossible to sustain a relationship with clients.

“If they know you’re going to break that confidentiality they’re not going to come,” Drugan said. “They’re not going to open up to you, they’re not going to be able to receive the help that they need, whatever the issue might be.”

Nickie Antonio is the State House representative for the 13th district, which includes Kent, and was a teacher prior to running for office. She said her primary concern lies in the possibility this bill could keep a child from reaching out for help from school counselors or trusted adults.

“Now, if somebody has to report you to your parents — depending on what the home situation is like, depending on whether or not the child feels that they would be embraced … really puts the child in a precarious, dangerous position,” Antonio said. “It makes me very sad. You know, this is not why people go into education.”

Cassie Storlie, an assistant professor in the lifespan development and educational sciences department, echoed Emmett’s concerns, pointing out the difficulties the effects of the bill would bring to practicing counselors.

“I would be charged with a felony for doing my job,” Storlie said. “That’s just absolutely ridiculous to think how, protecting the dignity of a client, you would lose your job that way.”

Storlie also noted the deep importance of effective counseling for trans minors.

“It continues to discriminate and marginalize against a population that already has double the suicide rate, double the rates of depression and suicidal ideation and self injury and so forth,” she said.

Numbers back up Storlie’s claim: a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine found 41 percent of Americans attempt suicide at some point in their life; significantly higher than the overall national average of 13.42 per 100,000 Americans — less than one percent of the total US population — according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Antonio also mentioned the risk of “emotional distress” the bill could cause, saying it comes from a lack of knowledge about the damage it could cause.

“I think just the tenor of this bill tells me that there’s a lack of understanding about all of the issues that come into play with something like this,” she said.

Drugan felt so moved by the legislation he felt the need to do something about it, so he reached out to Storlie to seek advice on what can be done to fight against the legislation.

“She was really great and let me introduce the (bill) and then said. ‘We’re going to learn how to draft letters to our legislators’ and talked about the importance of that,” Drugan said.

Storlie took the opportunity to teach a lesson in how to advocate while giving her students ample opportunity to be part of the push against the bill by counselors across the state of Ohio by coaching them through creating advocacy letters.

“We talked about what should be in the components of an advocacy letter,” Storlie said. “How we identify ourselves, how we also identify ourselves as voting citizens — that makes an impact as well — and future mental health counselors and how the significance of not oppressing an already marginalized population is not going to help the high instances of depression and suicide to begin with.

Storlie said she felt the need for advocacy not just for students, but for counselors themselves, as they try to do their jobs effectively.

“In counseling, it’s not just we’re doing things for our clients, but we also have to identify how … we’re sticking up for our profession and what we do and how we respect the dignity of all clients,” Storlie said.

While she did not require students to send the letters to their representatives, she saw a great deal of concern and energy from her students about the bill and its origin.

“I would say, almost all the students were very vocal about ‘What in the world is this bill about?’ and ‘Why is this happening?’ ‘Whose idea is this?’ and ‘Who was it generated from?’” Storlie said.

Drugan said, as a trans person, he felt a great deal of support from Storlie and the rest of the department faculty, of which many are involved in the Ohio Counseling Association and American Counseling Association, both of which have released statements condemning the bill.

“Not only did they support me but they empowered me, as well,” Drugan said. “It made me feel great as a student, it made me feel more safe in the community of and my program.”

Currently, the bill is in committee and has yet to be voted on by the Ohio House.

Written by Nicholas Hunter with additional reporting by Ella Abbott.

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