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Ohio lawmakers consider new ban on transgender athletes in girls' school sports

Soccer ball on rainbow background
Soccer ball on rainbow background

On this National Women's Day, Ohio lawmakers held a first hearing on a new bill (HB6) that would ban transgender athletes in Ohio's elementary, middle and high schools from participating in girls' sports.

This bill is similar to one that failed twice in the last General Assembly.

Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum), who sponsored the bill, previously is sponsoring this legislation now. She said passing it will ensure equality for women.

"This bill ensures sure that every little girl who works hard to make it on a podium is not robbed of her chance by a biological male competing against her in a biologically female sport," Powell said.

During her testimony, Powell repeatedly used the phrase "biological male," a controversial term when it comes to these bans. Some Democratic representatives on the committee questioned her about the use of that term.

Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst) asked Powell if she believes trans women are women who deserve the same protections as other women in Ohio.

"Male and female bodies play sports. That's what this piece of legislation is about. We want every women {woman} to succeed in our state and there is a biological difference between males and females. That is why we have women’s sports. That is why we have Title IX," Powell answered.

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) asked the same question of Powell a little differently, saying "Do you believe transgender people exist?" Powell said she had already addressed that question but added it would be a great question to ask more proponents and opponents of the bill as they testify in the future.

Powell testified "biological males" possess qualities that give them an advantage in women's sports. And she noted 18 states have already passed similar legislation.

Ohio lawmakers considered a similar bill last year. It passed in the House but stalled in the Senate. Some senators said they were concerned that the previous legislation included language that could have allowed for genital inspections.

Maria Bruno, executive director of Equality Ohio, said that initial language has been removed from this new version of the bill but she said any dispute over who could play on a team could still come down to genital inspections.

"The dispositive issue for the sponsor of this is the observable external genitalia which we know to be sex assigned at birth. That means that the only way to follow along with the sponsor's assumption is to presume that if there were to be a conflict, there would be a check,” Bruno said. “And there might not be specific language on how that check occurs, but basic common sense dictates that if the dispositive factor is external observable genitalia, how do you check without genital inspections?"

The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) currently has a policy for determining whether a transgender athlete can play on a women's sport team. That organization testified on the legislation last fall and is expected to weigh in again on this version of the bill.

The OHSAA reports only six transgender students are currently playing on girls' sports teams in Ohio's high schools.

Numbers of transgender students playing on girls' sports teams
The Ohio High School Athletic Association
The Ohio High School Athletic Association
Numbers of transgender students playing on girls' sports teams

Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-New Albany) asked about legal implications of this legislation and how this bill affects Title IX protections. Powell responded it complies with the federal civil rights law. 

"This piece of legislation includes everyone in the state of Ohio. This piece of legislation protects the integrity of women's sports in our state but everyone is still able to compete," Powell said.

But Bruno disagreed with Powell and said this bill, if it passes, it will likely face legal scrutiny in the future.

"It seems forseeable and even a foregone conclusion that if Ohio were to pass this bill, it would put the state directly at odds, not just with the OHSAA, but also the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association)."

Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) defended Powell's bill, saying it reflects the will of the majority of Ohioans. And if Ohio lawmakers fail to pass it in this General Assembly, he suggested the effort could be undertaken in a different way.

"Maybe if this bill can't get all of the way through, we could amend it and we could potentially have all of the school districts make their own decisions and elected officials could put a stop to this," Merrin said.

Both Merrin, who is the elected leader of the Republican House Caucus, and Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) have identified the bill as priority legislation. And the Ohio Legislature is dominated in both the House and Senate by a supermajority.

The bill also has support from some lobby groups, including Ohio Citizens for Christian Virtue. President Aaron Baer said his group feels the bill is important.

“Boys, regardless of how they identify, have a different physiology than girls. Boys cannot become girls, and allowing boys to compete against girls in sports not only puts girls’ safety at risk, it disadvantages them competitively.”

Lawmakers on the committee will be holding hearings on the bill in the coming months. Hundreds testified when the previous bill was heard in an Ohio House committee.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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