Ohio grooming bill’s vague language could be used to target LGBTQ+ groups, advocate warns

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LGBTQ+ advocates have expressed serious concern over a new bill introduced in Ohio that would punish sexual grooming, but contains “irresponsibly” vague language.

House Bill 322, introduced by Republican Reps Cindy Abrams and Bill Seitz, would make grooming an offence in state law, but Kaleidoscope Youth Centre worries that their services could be unreasonably targeted by conservatives if the bill’s language is not made clearer.

Currently, the bill reads that it would be an offence for an adult to engage with a minor by displaying a “pattern of conduct” that would lead a “reasonable adult” to believe they had a “purpose to entice, coerce, solicit or prepare the minor to engage in sexual activity.”

The Ohio bill would also mean that anyone found guilty of grooming under any of the above circumstances would have the offence listed on background checks.

Rainbow flag and Trans flag on a flagpole in front of office buildings
LGBTQ+ advocates fear that the language in the Ohio grooming bill is vague enough to be misused by homophobes. (Getty Images)

Kaleidoscope Youth Centre (KYC), which offers support and advice to LGBTQ+ youth in Ohio, has now warned that the “vague” wording in the bill could target them and groups like them for giving young people information on safe sex and sexual and gender identity.

Erin Upchurch, KYC executive director, told ABC affiliate News 5 Cleveland: “The whole idea of it being so vague – it’s so dangerous and irresponsible.”

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Upchurch explained that the people who come into KYC are looking for “mentorship-type relationships that all of us need.”

She continued: “The more information that you can give them to keep themselves safe, the better. 

“There are people who really want them to be equipped to do the right things with their bodies, to feel informed.”

While she noted that the premise of the bill is understandable, she and the KYC team are concerned that it could be misused politically.

The word “groomer” is commonly abused by homophobic groups and individuals to demonise the LGBTQ+ community. 

A person holds up a rainbow LGBTQ+ pride flag during a march in Tokyo, Japan
The term “groomer” is often abused by homophobic groups to demonise the LGBTQ+ community. (Getty)

Upchurch expressed fears that, if this bill is not as clear as possible, it could be wrongfully used to target their centre and others like it.

She told the local station: “I think if this bill were to pass as it is written, one thing that would be challenging is the lack of clarity and the confusion. It puts the focus on people having to double-check what are we doing.

“We trust our young people, they trust us and we build those relationships and part of that is if they’re asking a question, we’re gonna give them the answer. We’re gonna give them the facts or we’re gonna tell them where they can find it.”

When asked about KYC’s concerns, bill co-signer Bill Seitz simply said: “I think people are seeing ghosts where none exist,” the lawmaker said. “This bill has nothing to do with sex education to LGBTQ youth.”

At the time of writing, only Republican Representatives have co-signed the house bill, with Demorats telling the local publication that they were holding off for further details before they agreed to sign.

The House Civil Justice Committee has yet to hear public testimony on the bill.

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