Arienne Childrey, a transgender woman and activist, has announced her candidacy for the Ohio House of Representatives. She is running as a Democrat in the 84th district, which covers parts of Mercer, Auglaize, Shelby, and Darke counties. She will face the incumbent Republican, Angela King, who is one of the sponsors of a bill that would ban drag performances in public places with children.
A historic campaign for transgender rights
Childrey, who is 37 years old, hopes to become the first openly transgender person elected to the Ohio legislature. She said she decided to run after seeing the discrimination and harassment that transgender people face in the state. She said she wants to be a voice for the marginalized and oppressed communities in Ohio.
“I’m running because I’m tired of seeing people like me being treated as less than human,” Childrey said. “I’m running because I want to make a difference in the lives of people who are struggling and suffering. I’m running because I believe in the power of love and compassion.”
Childrey said she is not afraid to challenge King, who has been a vocal opponent of transgender rights. King, who is 49 years old, was elected to the House in 2020. She is a former teacher and school board member. She is also a co-sponsor of House Bill 245, which would prohibit “adult cabaret performances” by entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different than the one they were assigned at birth. The bill would apply to any public place where children under 18 are present, such as restaurants, bars, libraries, and schools.
King said the bill is intended to protect children from exposure to inappropriate and sexualized content. She said she was inspired by a drag queen story hour event that took place at a public library in her district in 2019. She said she received complaints from parents and constituents who were concerned about the event.
“I think it’s wrong to expose children to this kind of entertainment,” King said. “It’s confusing and harmful to their development. It’s not about hate or bigotry. It’s about common sense and decency.”
A controversial bill that faces opposition and legal challenges
House Bill 245, which was introduced in July 2023, has sparked controversy and criticism from LGBTQ advocates, civil rights groups, and performers. They argue that the bill is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and unnecessary. They say that drag shows are a form of artistic expression and cultural diversity, and that they do not pose any threat or harm to children.
“Drag is not about sex. It’s about gender expression and identity,” said Nina West, a drag queen and activist who rose to fame after appearing on the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. “Drag is a way of celebrating who we are and who we want to be. It’s a way of educating and empowering people of all ages and backgrounds.”
West, who is based in Columbus, Ohio, said she has performed at many drag queen story hour events across the country, and that they are always well-received and appreciated by the children and their families. She said she has also raised over $3 million for various charities and causes through her drag shows and events.
“Drag is a force for good in the world,” West said. “It’s a way of spreading joy and kindness. It’s a way of challenging stereotypes and breaking barriers. It’s a way of making the world a better place.”
House Bill 245 has not yet received a hearing or a vote in the House. However, it has already faced legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which filed a lawsuit in federal court in September 2023, seeking to block the bill from becoming law. The lawsuit claims that the bill violates the First Amendment rights of free speech and expression, and the Fourteenth Amendment rights of equal protection and due process.
“The bill is a blatant attempt to silence and censor a group of people based on their gender identity and expression,” said Freda Levenson, the legal director of the ACLU of Ohio. “The bill is vague and overbroad, and it would create a chilling effect on the artistic and cultural community in Ohio. The bill is unconstitutional and unenforceable, and we will fight to stop it.”
A hopeful vision for a more inclusive and diverse Ohio
Childrey said she is optimistic that her campaign will resonate with the voters in her district, and that she will be able to defeat King in the November 2024 election. She said she has a lot of support and encouragement from her family, friends, and allies. She said she also has a lot of experience and qualifications that make her a suitable candidate for the House.
Childrey, who is a native of Ohio, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in social work. She has worked as a mental health counselor, a substance abuse counselor, and a case manager for various organizations and agencies. She is also the founder and executive director of TransOhio, a nonprofit group that provides advocacy, education, and resources for the transgender community in Ohio.
Childrey said she has a platform that focuses on issues such as health care, education, jobs, infrastructure, and the environment. She said she wants to work with both Democrats and Republicans to find solutions and compromises that benefit all Ohioans. She said she also wants to promote a more inclusive and diverse culture and society in Ohio.
“I believe that Ohio is a great state with great people,” Childrey said. “I believe that Ohio can be a leader and a model for the rest of the country. I believe that Ohio can be a place where everyone is welcome and respected, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, or any other difference. I believe that Ohio can be a place where everyone can live, work, and thrive.”