The Ohio Statehouse. Photo by Jake Zuckerman, 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.
After widespread outrage, the Ohio Senate GOP is killing the “genital inspection” portion of a bill that would prohibit transgender girls and women from competing against cisgender girls and women.
Senate President Matt Huffman has made his stance known about the transgender sports bill, which requires any female athlete “accused” of being transgender to have a full external and internal genital inspection.
“It’s not necessary,” said Huffman, a Republican from Lima, at an event Wednesday at The City Club of Cleveland. “It’s not going to happen.”
The Save Women’s Sports Act was added into an unrelated bill and passed by the Ohio House late at night in early June. 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.
Sub H.B. 151 would require schools, state universities and private colleges to designate separate “single-sex” teams and sports for “each sex.”
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).
If someone is suspected to be transgender, under Sub H.B. 151, she must go through evaluations of her external and internal genitalia, testosterone levels and genetic makeup.
One week ago, Huffman said he couldn’t have an opinion about the inspections, since it’s not something he is an expert in.
“Those are the kind of things that you need to sit down, you have testimony about, you work out the details, you talk to experts,” he added. “And in all fairness, me trying to answer that question is exactly what I’m criticizing other people to do, which is just to go ahead and vote — you’re really not sure exactly how all that is going to be.”
Due to his role in the Legislature, Huffman gets to choose which bills are heard in the Senate, and he said this proposal isn’t moving forward. News 5 checked with Huffman’s team Thursday and they said this is his plan.
“I’m not sure why that’s in the bill,” he said.
Mother and Northeast Ohio Democratic activist Katie Paris knew former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was speaking at the City Club event, however, she didn’t know that Huffman was there.
“No child, regardless of gender, should be subject to internal genital inspections just because they want to play sports,” Paris said.
After outrage about the bill, she decided to ask DeVos about it.
“I thought that asking her about some of these extreme things that are happening in our Ohio legislature might shine a spotlight on it and maybe even create some common ground that regardless of party, we could all say that this is too extreme, we’re not doing these things,” Paris told News 5 in an exclusive interview. “Unfortunately, she didn’t take that opportunity.”
The activist did exactly that, asking DeVos if, regardless of party, parents could come together and say that’s not appropriate.
DeVos punted the question to an unsuspecting Huffman, who first acknowledged and thank the former secretary for getting him involved in this, but then assured Paris the inspections will be taken off the bill.
“It’s completely unnecessary,” he added. “All of these tests can be done with a simple DNA swab.”
This is the specific part of the bill that has been talked about the most, he said, because it “outrages a lot of people.”
That being said, banning transgender girls from sports with cisgender girls could still happen.
“This is a House bill that was passed in the dead of night without conversation with any of the senators,” the Republican added. “Senator Roegner here does have a bill which we plan to move in November or December that deals directly with the issue that you’re talking about.”
The Senate version of the bill, however, has the exact same language about genital inspections. Since Huffman was adamant about not including the inspections, it is likely that language will be taken out of the Senate bill before it is heard.
Once the senator finished speaking, Paris knew she had to catch him after the event, she said.
In a video that Paris had someone take of her talking to Huffman, she asked him a few times if the genital inspection amendment was totally dead. He said yes.
Although that was a win for her, she knew it wasn’t going to be all clear from there, she added.
“I am sure that he will continue with trying to put forward legislation that prevents transgender kids from being able to play,” she said. “I don’t know why these politicians seem to be so obsessed with children’s genitals and making sure that these kids’ lives a little bit harder.”
Although he is in a position of power, he isn’t the only Republican that matters, Paris added.
“He does not represent all of the Ohio legislature,” she said. “A Republican House did pass this measure, so we will continue to hold him accountable.”
If Huffman actually kills this language, this would be the second time he has done so in a year.
Republican state Reps. Jena Powell, from Arcanum, and cosponsor Reggie Stoltzfus, from Paris Township, introduced this bill in 2021, getting it passed the House in the same surprise fashion they did this time around.
Huffman seemed frustrated that it was snuck in the first time, and seemed annoyed this time around, as well. Like all of these issues, he said, there are nuances, and that is why “sliding floor amendments in unrelated bills is a bad way to do business.”
Back in 2021, 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.
DeWine has been wishy-washy with his previous statements on bills, Paris said, so she doesn’t have faith he will keep that sentiment.
“DeWine’s record lately of doing things that he said previously doesn’t give me much hope that he wouldn’t totally tell the lie,” the activist said.
She listed his record on combating gun violence, especially after he promised to put forward more strict gun regulations after the deadly Dayton shooting in 2019. Democrats say the bills he has signed have made guns more accessible, including “Stand Your Ground,” permitless carry and the recent bill allowing school staff members to be armed with just 24 hours of training.
“Push comes to shove, if the Ohio legislature pushes this legislation forward, he’ll sign it,” she predicted.
The governor doesn’t have a final bill, so he is withholding comment, DeWine’s spokesperson Dan Tierney told News 5 Thursday. However, the governor does support the legislative process and having people be able to testify on each side, he added.
When asked if this meant that DeWine changed his mind on wanting this decision to be left to athletic associations, Tierney said no.
“We do have organizations that have rules in place — these governing bodies, whether it’s the Ohio High School Athletics Association or others that do have laws in place on this particular issue,” he said. “He certainly supports that being done at that level.”
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.
To be clear, the governor also doesn’t think it makes sense to allow biological males to compete in women’s sports. It’s an issue of fairness, the spokesperson added.
“The most important thing we can do is vote this November and not support politicians who are this extreme,” Paris said, adding that this was one of the only ways to hold lawmakers accountable for their statements on bills.
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