Ember, a transgender girl from Northeast Ohio, playing softball for her high school. Photo from Equality Ohio.
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.
Six girls across Ohio may no longer be able to play on their sports teams if Republicans in the state get their way.
Sports bring people together, and for Northeast Ohio teen Ember, it gave her something to look forward to in the darkest time of her life. For her safety, OCJ/WEWS is referring to her and her mother Minna by just their first names.
“We all click because we’re working towards the same goal, we’re all working on bettering ourselves,” Ember said. “That community — that’s what softball provides me.”
Only three transgender students have been approved for the upcoming spring sports season, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) told OCJ/WEWS. Ember is one of them.
There are approximately 400,000 athletes participating in 7-12 athletics in the state, according to OHSAA. Ember and the five other girls are 0.000015% of the population. For the spring season, she and the two others represent 0.0000075%.
“It does feel like there’s a target [on my back] and that they are using me and other trans female athletes as political pawns,” she said.
The Ohio GOP may revoke her ability to play, as some members deem her a threat to the athletic institution — despite her barely getting playing time.
“House Bill 6 — protect the integrity of girls’ sports and make certain that biological males cannot compete in female-only athletics,” House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) announced during a press conference Wednesday.
Going over legislative priorities, Stephens announced the reintroduction of the bill to ban trans girls from playing sports with cisgender girls in all public and private schools and colleges.
The bill, dubbed by the GOP as the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” sparked widespread controversy last General Assembly after OCJ/WEWS revealed the legislation required genital examinations if an athlete was “accused” of being trans. At that time, Ember was the only high school trans athlete in the state participating in athletics.
“[Republican politicians] are consistently showing that they do not care about trans people, specifically trans girls — they do not want us in Ohio,” the teen said. “They do not value us, and they do not view us as real people or real girls.”
After passing the House, the Ohio Senate GOP killed the genital inspection portion of the bill, replacing it with birth certificate checks. It failed to get to the governor’s desk.
The current version does not have the genital inspection provision.
“I think it’s much, much better,” Stephens said about the new version. “We have over 18 states that have passed similar legislation and been able to… work off of some of the language that has been adopted there.”
This version doesn’t list any kind of confirmation aspect. The bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum), did not respond to give clarification, and neither did multiple GOP press secretaries.
The bill from the previous G.A. failed to pass through, but the bill sponsor said she introduced it because of her theory that girls are being put at a disadvantage, despite rigorous testing to allow a transgender athlete to play with cisgender athletes.
“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,” Powell said in 2022.
Minna explained her daughter has won no awards or championships for her athletic prowess, and the OHSAA said neither have the five other trans girls playing sports.
“She played maybe six innings in two years,” Minna said. “So who has she taken time away from?”
The OHSAA agreed with the family’s sentiment.
“The OHSAA is aware of the reintroduction of a bill addressing the participation of transgender athletes in our member schools’ sports programs. We will continue to educate people on the OHSAA’s transgender policy, which has been successfully implemented for the last eight years and has not resulted in any loss of female participation, championships or scholarship opportunities in Ohio,” a spokesperson for OHSAA told OCJ/WEWS.
If a trans girl wants to play on a team with cis girls, she has to go through hormone treatment for at least one year, or she must demonstrate no physical or physiological advantages.
There have been 23 transgender female rulings since 2015, and 16 have played, the athletic association added.
Calling it the ‘Save Women’s Sports Act’ is ironic, Minna said.
“When was the last time you went to a female sporting event that wasn’t your own child’s or grandchild’s or niece’s sports?” the mother said. “When was the last time you did anything to even show the slightest bit of interest or care for girls’ sports?”
The best way to support girls and women in sports is to give them funding and equal facilities, she said.
Inside the bill and inside the Statehouse
Along with requiring schools, state institutions of higher education and private colleges to designate separate single-sex teams and sports for each sex, the bill provides opportunity for legal action.
Anyone who feels they didn’t get an athletic opportunity or “suffers a direct or indirect harm” can sue the school and district, interscholastic conference or organization that regulates the conference. If someone feels they have been retaliated against for reporting a potential “trans” student, they are also able to sue. The litigious individual must bring the suit within two years after the “violation” occurs.
This bill only impacts the ability to participate on a girls team, not boys or a co-ed team.
This bill is not popular with lawmakers across the aisle.
House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) helped elect Stephens to power. Some of the provisions of the deal Stephens offered to Russo aren’t as solid as others, the leader said. Nothing is in writing, but rather agreements, compromises and known Democratic wants.
One of the bargaining chips included the Republicans not advancing any “extreme” legislation.
“As I said from the beginning, we are not going to have an alignment on every issue, and we are not beholden to support everything that the speaker puts forward,” Russo said. “On this topic and any topic that is attacking our LGBTQ+ citizens, we will be pushing back.”
Regarding pleasing Russo, Stephens said this was a decision that spurred from the caucus retreat.
What’s next for Ember
Ember never wanted to leave, but she said she has been forced to.
“I don’t feel safe in this state,” she said.
She will be attending college out of state, despite getting a scholarship to stay in Ohio. She is putting her own and her family’s money on the line for the sake of her life, she said.
“People are going to leave, and the ones that don’t have the money to leave are going to hate it here,” Ember said. “You are going to suffer wholeheartedly because of this decision.”
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