June 2022

Stop Order 616


One of my dearest friends was a transwoman. We first met in the mid 2000s when Claire was a student of mine in an expository writing course. By the third week, I pulled her aside and said she should be teaching because she was the better writer. But since it was required of all students, I suggested that we work on a piece together that she could publish. And that’s what we did. Claire went on to take at least four courses and a couple workshops from me. More importantly, we began a defining friendship of my life.

Claire was large, in every sense of the word. She was well over six feet tall and heavyset. I think it was at least a year before I learned that Claire was trans. To me, she was woman, so I was truly surprised when she told me of her gender identity. I remember Claire laughing—anyone who knew Claire and is reading this now hears that laugh! —and she quipped, “What, did you think I grew up between powerlines?” Claire could make you laugh harder than you thought possible. My abs were usually sore for days after a lunch or D&D campaign.

Claire was brilliant, with a lighting wit that was the delight of everyone who knew her; well, anyone who wasn’t a bigot, that is. She amassed a following on social media, what she called the Hordeling. We were all proud to be hordelings. Claire made you feel special; she had a way of being fully invested in a friendship, even if it was entirely on the keyboard. She and I used to get into pun battles (sometimes in Latin) that would go back and forth for dozens of comments until, almost invariably, I would acquiesce: “I bow to the mistress.” People logged on to read Claire, to exchange frustrations and to celebrate the blessings of life. She was beloved online. For a number of people, Claire was the first transperson they knew; her honesty and forthrightness changed minds and hearts. She was beautiful.

But Claire faced another reality in the world outside her door. Those stories are not mine to tell, but over the years she had been hurt and shamed, so Claire decided to live close to her family and together they created a space that was safe for her. They were and are a close brood. Claire was especially beloved by her niece and nephew. Tia Claire or LaLa, she would answer to either, was to them a sun, shining brightly and filled with warmth. Claire often joked about her tiny charcoal heart—I cannot overstress how cruel this world is to trans persons—but anyone who met her knew that she was so large physically because only such a frame could house that heart.

Claire died last year from COVID-19. But that is not why I am writing.

Ohio HB 616, with the doublespeak title, “Regards promotion, teaching-divisive, inherently racist concepts,” is a dumpster fire piece of replacement theory legislation. Squirrelled away in the bill are these two provisions: “(a) With respect to a student in any of grades kindergarten through three, teach, use, or provide any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity; (b) With respect to a student in any of grades four through twelve, teach, use, or provide any curriculum or instructional materials on sexual orientation or gender identity in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students according to state standards.”

At first, it may seem reasonable. They just want age-appropriate materials! What could be wrong with that? But what will be those approved materials? Will they explain gender-identity as a complex reality? Will teachers who use hateful, harmful language around gender identity be protected, while those who attempt to explain, even in the simplest terms, its complexity be targeted? Further, think of what this does to kids. Claire’s niece and nephew could be prevented from talking about Claire in a classroom. Because Claire was trans, her gender identity means that the kids either have to lie, shut up, or face consequences. Children will be told, whether directly or not, that there is something forbidden or wrong about non-conforming persons. This bill wants to use our tax dollars so teachers will be legally required to shut down kids who talk about a non-heteronormative household. If the drafters of this bill want to allay these concerns, they could commit to supporting textbooks that teach the science of gender expression, not the unscientific ideology of the gender binary.

But they won’t. “Nothing in this section is intended to promote or encourage the utilization of any particular text or source material on a statewide basis.” Again, this may seem reasonable on the face, but what are the bottom line requirements of these textbooks? By not recommending, the bill gives complete freedom for bigotry. The greater purpose is to ensure that any person can lodge a complaint against a school official, regardless of the circumstances or situation, that will by definition disrupt the life of educators and/or administrators. “(D)(1) The state board shall establish a procedure in accordance with Chapter 119. of the Revised Code by which an individual may file a complaint against a teacher, school administrator, or school district superintendent alleging a violation of division (B) or (C) of this section.” The state board will then subject the accused to a hearing. The consequences of a violation? Well, that could include “taking licensure action based upon the severity of the offense, including, but not limited to, an official licensure admonishment, licensure suspension, or licensure revocation.” If the school district doesn’t act, if they try to protect a teacher or challenge the law, their funding will be at risk.

I encourage people to read the full bill. While there are just a few sentences setting up penalties for teachers, the legislation itself is so broad that the effect is chilling. What will determine the “severity” of a violation? Are children going to be instructed by their parents or guardians to report any mention of people who are gay or gender nonbinary? Will a teacher who acknowledges or affirms a nonbinary identity be in violation? What about gender nonconforming teachers or administrators? Are we going back to don’t ask, don’t tell? I think we all know that the answer is yes. High school valedictorians are having to use coded language to talk about their own identity. This is not a bill that aims to protect children. It is yet another way ideologues want to push us back seventy years. Those who like the Star Wars likely caught Order 616 referenced in the title; the Jedi were destroyed through Order 66, carried out by Emperor Palpatine’s clone army. I’ll let you make the specific connections, but they’re pretty clear. Bigotry is ingrained and can be triggered with the mention a simple word. Don’t say gay, indeed.

One of the last things that Claire and I worked on together was her ordination through the Universal Life Church. For years, we had spoken about theology, the ways in which Christianity is oppressive and abusive, but the ways in which Jesus continues to be a guiding light despite the failures of religion. Claire felt called to begin work as an officiant, something I had been doing even before my own ordination. Claire had a beautiful understanding of the divine, and her struggles with being embodied were no match for the strength of her spirit. But Claire was scared to put herself out there like that; as I am not a trans person, I won’t pretend to understand the depth of that struggle, but there was no doubt for me that Claire was one of the best human beings I have ever know or will ever know. She was an important spiritual teacher to and for me. It breaks my heart that her ministry and witness was cut brutally short.

I have grown increasingly disenchanted with organized Christianity and the impact it has the society. Some of the strongest support for this bill are self-professed followers of Christ. Would they tell Jesus to stop talking about the lived experiences of Samaritans, the lepers, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and those on the furthest margins? What about the hemorrhaging woman, who touches Jesus’ cloak? When he notices and asks who touched him, the woman falls before him and tells him, “the whole truth.” What is that whole truth? That over the course of twelve years, she has seen countless physicians and priests, only to lose all she had and still be ill. Would they stop this woman from speaking? I’m sorry, but we can’t allow you to discuss how you came to this point, because it might be upsetting to someone who doesn’t believe menstruation is real. Once again, the most ignorant and hateful elements in this state hide behind a cross.

I can and do encourage you to write and call the appropriate legislators, but the truth is, this state is so gerrymandered and in the grip of zealots that I have little hope that the bill will fail. And if it does, there will be another, then another, then another. To be clear, I have written and made my own voice heard. One cannot complain if one does not act. And to be sure, there are many more objections to this bill for what it attempts to do regarding discussions of race. As I said above, it is a dumpster fire of alt-right, replacement theory garbage.

I’ll end on a positive note. Claire was the best writer I’ve ever know IRL; I’d rank her in my personal top ten writers of all time. Click below to start your own journey. Become a hordeling. As Claire would say, it’s fun here and we have cookies. https://www.amazon.com/Claire-Monserrat-Jackson/e/B00IFQJ5DY%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share



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