The Ohio Statehouse. Photo by Tyler Buchanan, Ohio Capital Journal.
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
House Republican lawmakers in Ohio passed a bill at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday night that would ban transgender girls and women from participating in high school and college athletics. It also comes with a “verification process” of checking the genitals of those “accused” of being trans.
The ‘Save Women’s Sports Act,’ or House Bill 61, wasn’t supposed to be on the schedule for legislators originally. However, at the last minute, Republican representatives added the language to a completely different bill.
H.B. 151 would revise Ohio’s Teacher Residency Program, trying to reduce state control in schools. The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Don Jones, from Freeport, got a surprise addition.
News 5’s Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau tried to get the substitute bill numerous times during the session, but Democrats told her they didn’t have it and had also been looking for it. Some Republicans said the same, some didn’t respond. It was finally sent to her the next afternoon, while still not being posted online for the public to read as of 8 p.m. EST.
“Having this third bill now slipped into an unrelated bill at the last moment is just such an additional slap in the face to our entire community,” Maria Bruno, legislative policy director for Equality Ohio, said. “I know that there are a lot of folks in the LGBTQ community who are sitting there asking themselves, ‘What did I do to them? because they keep coming after me’ and I can’t blame them for having that perspective.
“But the answer is nothing, just existing.”
Sub H.B. 151 would require schools, state universities and private colleges to designate separate “single-sex” teams and sports for “each sex.”
“Across our country, female athletes are currently losing championships, scholarship opportunities, medals, education and training opportunities and more to discriminatory policies that allow biological males to compete in girls sports,” H.B. 61 bill sponsor Republican state Rep. Jena Powell, from Arcanum, said while proposing the amendment adding her bill into H.B. 151.
There is only one transgender girl in the state that is currently participating in high school athletics, according to Equality Ohio and the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OSHAA).
“Being able to play on the girl’s team is absolutely amazing, it’s a total dream,” Ember, a softball player and high school junior, said. “I feel at home and I can be myself and push myself every day to do my best, and I don’t have to put on the mask or pretend to be someone else to enjoy the sport that I love.”
Many House Republicans say allowing people like Ember to join girl’s teams hurts her competitors, especially with women working hard to earn Title IX, the sex discrimination act, for sports.
“I am passionate about this issue because we can not allow girls’ dreams of being a gold medal athlete to be crushed by biological males stealing their opportunity,” Powell said. “This bill ensures 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 biological female sport.”
This declaration woke all of the Democrats in the chamber up. The next 45 minutes were full of heated exchanges between the two parties.
“This is not a real problem,” state Rep. Rich Brown, a Democrat from Canal Winchester, said. “This is a made-up, ‘ let’s feed red meat to the base’ issue.”
State Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican from Loveland, is very passionate about this issue because of her running career.
“I have fought my entire life for equal rights for women, this is equal rights for women,” Schmidt said.
The Republican used her time to talk about how, one time, she placed second in a track meet. She did not lose to a transgender woman, but this was before Title IX came into play, so she couldn’t get scholarships.
“It’s also the sense of pride that you get when you cross that finish line first, and you get that little coffee cup or you get that little medal,” she said. “We take that away when we give somebody an unfair advantage that we cannot compete against transgender women if they have the same athletic training as biological women have a much better shot at that trophy or that coffee cup or that scholarship.”
Democrats then proceeded to fact-check the claims in the supporters’ remarks.
“I was told ‘in the last seven years the OSHAA transgender policy has been in place, we have never had more than one transgender female participating on a girl’s team at the high school level in any given year'” state Rep. Dr. Beth Liston, a Democrat from Dublin, said.
Her stats are backed up by Equality Ohio and OSHAA. Once again, there was only one trans girl participating in athletics during the 2021-22 school year.
“There are not scores of girls’ dreams being crushed, there is one child trying to play on their high school sports team,” Liston said. “This is a made-up controversy and this amendment is state-sanctioned bullying against one child.”
But John Stover with Ohio Value Voters said if he had a daughter, he would want her to have a fair shot.
“To have a transgender seven foot one inch male that was competing against her and having the physical strength that he is going to have competing against a daughter or in any of these physical sports, that would certainly be inappropriate,” Stover said.
That doesn’t happen, because OSHAA already has rules in place regarding transgender athletes, Bruno added.
“A guy wakes up and decides tomorrow he’s going to be on the girl’s team?” Bruno said. “It’s not a thing in Ohio that can happen, period.”
Currently, if a trans girl wants to play with cis girls, she must have either a minimum of one year of going through hormone treatment or she must demonstrate no physical or physiological advantages.
Liston, a physician, then brought up what advocates are calling the most “disturbing” and “chilling” part of the bill.
“I struggle to understand why we keep discussing bills focusing on children’s genitals,” she said.
The proposed rules would prohibit any trans athlete from competing with cisgender girls or women. It also has a verification requirement, if someone is “accused” or “suspected” of being trans.
If someone is suspected to be transgender, she must go through evaluations of her external and internal genitalia, testosterone levels and genetic makeup.
“This is truly bizarre medically and nonsensical, but looking at it practically, this bill means that if anyone decides to question a child’s true gender, that child must undergo a sensitive exam,” the doctor said.
A huge fear of Bruno’s is that not only will this traumatize young people, but also can cause a huge ripple effect on competitions in general.
Technically, under this bill, anyone can “accuse” someone else of being transgender, thus prompting this chain reaction.
Once “inspected,” the girl or woman has to give a signed physician’s statement indicating their sex based on those three evaluations, according to the bill.
It is worth it for safety, though, Stover said.
“When you start looking at a sport like basketball, that’s a rather physical sport, and I as a father — if I did have a daughter that was competing at that level — I would not be happy to think that my daughter was competing in a situation that certainly had her involved in an unfair competitive disadvantage against a biological male who was transgender.”
When asked about the potential thousands of girls now being internally examined just for winning a race, Stover said it could possibly happen — but most likely not.
“It’s normally a situation in a case where I would say probably 95 to 98% of the time you know,” he said. “If I or any other male was to decide that I was going to become a female, I would make a very obvious transgender.”
“For example, Lia Thomas, you can tell that just by looking at him that this is a biological male,” he said about the woman who won the NCAA Division I national championship in the 500-yard freestyle swimming event. “So it’s something that normally is going to be physical that you’re going to be able to see.”
Thomas, whose name came up frequently during Republican comments during the session, but she doesn’t win all of her races.
“I certainly, once again, raised the question, where does this all end if we allow, once again, transgender biological men to compete against females in sports?” Stover said.
This will have a huge chilling effect, according to Bruno.
“Women will sometimes have more testosterone completely naturally than folks would prefer a transgender athlete to have,” she said. “So they actually are functioning at a lower threshold for what they are allowed to have hormonally to compete.”
Genetic advantages exist all around, like when she stopped growing at 5-feet-7-inches and started losing her basketball games, she added. Just because someone is taller, doesn’t mean they don’t also get to play.
What this all comes down to, for Bruno and the Democrats, is politics and “scare tactics.”
“They are trying to convince people that trans people are after their well-being, their awards, whatever,” she said. “But it’s also a reflection of just how politicized we are trying to make our youth, particularly our LGBTQ youth, and it’s just not okay.”
Now more than ever, people want to belong, Democratic state Rep. Phil Robinson, from Solon, said.
“If you think about what happening in our country, with a breakdown of our culture, it’s not because there are people who are different,” Robinson said. “We’re not making a place for everyone to feel included in a society.”
Ohio continues to drop in population count, Democrats believe it is due to Republican legislation surrounding abortion, guns and education. Republicans say people want good weather and more job opportunities. Both could be true.
This bill wouldn’t be good for Ohio’s economic development, which could also hurt job growth, Robinson added.
“You’re talking anywhere from 300 million to 400 million dollars that would happen instantaneously,” he said. “The NCAA didn’t say they would think about it, they have already committed to doing it.”
All different athletic conferences have already said they would pull out their conferences and events in Ohio. Even if the other lawmakers believe in the bill, they should think about the economic impact, he added.
The Democrat then went on to argue that this is a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. Fewer than 20 transgender girls have played high school girls’ sports in the past decade, according to Bruno.
“If you get in front of a potential issue, that’s always better than waiting until there is a major problem that you need to deal with,” Stover said.
Powell and cosponsor Republican state Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus, from Paris Township, introduced this bill in 2021, getting it passed the House in the same surprise fashion they did this time.
Gov. Mike DeWine made a statement about wanting these decisions to be made by athletic associations, not the government, and thus the Senate blocked the bill — sending it back to the House.
“We aren’t trying to hurt anybody,” Ember said. “We’re just trying to feel safe and like ourselves.”
The governor’s team said he has been busy, so he hasn’t had the opportunity to evaluate the bill or possibly change his mind about his earlier statement.
When the final vote was taken, 56 voted yes, 28 voted no and 15 didn’t vote. The votes are included in the tweet below.
The representatives didn’t vote because they were either not in attendance or they left the room.
It is very possible this bill doesn’t go anywhere, according to a source, since the Legislature won’t be meeting again until after recess — which is in November.
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