Section: Opinion

Kenyon must speak out against anti-trans bills like H.B. 68

On Tuesday afternoon, Judge Michael Holbrook issued a temporary restraining order on Ohio House Bill 68 (H.B. 68). Originally set to go into effect next Wednesday, H.B. 68, also known as the SAFE Act (Save Adolescents From Experimentation), would ban trangender minors in Ohio from accessing trans healthcare including puberty blockers, hormones and certain mental health services. The bill would also ban trans girls from competing on women’s sports teams in schools and universities across Ohio — including at Kenyon. While the restraining order is only set to last for two weeks, it is renewable; still, the ultimate fate of H.B. 68 is unclear, and the fight to completely halt its enactment remains an uphill one.

H.B. 68 isn’t Ohio’s only recently introduced anti-trans bill. In May 2023, Ohio H.B. 183 was introduced; a sweeping ‘bathroom bill,’ H.B. 183 was written with the intent to ban trans students from using the bathroom aligning with their gender identity and would prohibit schools across the state from having multi-use, gender neutral bathrooms. Worded vaguely enough to potentially affect Kenyon, it passed out of the Ohio House Higher Education Committee on April 10 and will now be introduced to the House in its next session (also next Wednesday) after spending months in limbo.

I’m not interested in debating trans adolescents accessing puberty blockers or trans athletes competing in women’s sports. There are countless studies proving that the vast majority of trans people do not regret transitioning, regardless of what age they began their transition, that puberty blockers (drugs that have been available for cisgender children since the 1990s) aren’t harmful and that access to trans healthcare improves the mental and physical well-being of trans kids. The notion that trans girls should be banned from competing in women’s sports — an argument I’ve heard parroted by my peers at Kenyon — is based purely on misogyny and fear mongering.

So, no. I’m not interested in debating this bill. What I am interested in discussing is Kenyon’s response to it. Or, I suppose, the lack thereof. Since February 2023, when H.B. 68 was first introduced, the College has remained silent regarding the wave of anti-trans legislation sweeping the state, even though the bills and rhetoric that comes with them will inevitably impact Kenyon — and lead to a slew of questions that the College will need to reckon with.

Will Kenyon ensure that trans students from out of state will be able to continue receiving healthcare at Kenyon if they’re under 18? Or, if a bill is introduced in the future that would restrict healthcare for trans adults as well as trans minors, something that Governor Mike DeWine has already considered and is already a reality in Florida, how will Kenyon support its trans students and fight to protect their access to healthcare? If H.B. 183 is enacted (and even if it isn’t), how will Kenyon make sure that trans students feel safe using bathrooms around campus? Would Kenyon refuse to replace multi-stall gender neutral bathrooms with single-sex ones, or will the already sparse number of gender neutral bathrooms on campus shrink overnight? If a student’s family has to make a sudden move out of Ohio because a younger sibling’s access to healthcare is cut off in the wake of H.B. 68, how will Kenyon provide support for that student? Will Kenyon’s admissions staff be honest with applicants about the anti-trans moral panic running rampant in Ohio, or will they gloss over it in information sessions with prospective students? Will recruiters for Kenyon Athletics explicitly avoid recruiting trans athletes if H.B. 68 is enacted? Will Kenyon’s Athletics department say anything at all about the oncoming ban on trans athletes? Will the Kenyon College Athletes for Equality say anything? Will the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion? Will the Office for Civil Rights? Will President Julie Kornfeld?

Will anyone?

How are trans students at Kenyon supposed to “feel welcome, respected and included” as members of the community, as stated in Kenyon’s Diversity & Inclusion statement, when zero  acknowledgement has been made about transphobic bills that will affect Kenyon students, trans and cisgender alike? I’m so grateful for my time on the Hill, and for all the ways Kenyon has allowed me to grow as a person throughout my time in Gambier; at the same time, being trans at Kenyon can be an incredibly isolating experience. I’ve been confronted in bathrooms on campus, singled out at airport security and have had to fly home on weekends for medical appointments. I feel incredibly lucky to have supportive friends and family, but the reality is that being a trans student at a rural college in a conservative state comes with a unique set of difficulties that I worry will only get worse if H.B. 68 and similar bills are enacted.

While my time at Kenyon is nearing its end, the harm these bills and others like them could cause has the potential to be lasting and damaging. Trans students at Kenyon — past, present and future — deserve a school that supports and acknowledges them every day — not just on March 31. Trans students at Kenyon deserve to feel safe, supported and accepted, and Kenyon’s lack of response to these bills is eroding the already weak trust trans students have in the school. So, what can Kenyon do?

Acknowledging these bills might be a good start.

I would love to sit down with someone — anyone — to discuss how Kenyon could help trans students feel more welcome and/or possible protections the school could put in place in anticipation of these bills and ones that may follow, and I’m sure many of my trans peers feel similarly. But, as I’m sure most everyone who’s a member of a marginalized community is aware, having to constantly advocate for yourself can be exhausting. I’ve spent my senior year at Kenyon trying to start conversations about these bills in different ways, and part of me wishes I had somehow tried harder — that I had spent more time advocating, educating and warning people about these bills. Ultimately, though, to have a successful dialogue, both parties need to be aware of — and willing to have — the conversation at hand.

Kenyon: Your trans students don’t feel safe. What are you going to do about it?

Jack Braun ’24 is an English major with an emphasis in creative writing and a Studio Art minor from New York. They can be reached at braun1@kenyon.edu.

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