Those who spoke in support of a controversial bill that would keep trans athletes from participating in Ohio women’s sports in college and youth athletics were met with lengthy — and sometimes sassy and sharp — questioning.
State Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, two former Ohio State student-athletes, a former high school softball and baseball coach, and two Christian groups were among those who spoke in support of House Bill 6 during Wednesday morning’s Higher Education Committee meeting. State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, introduced the bill dubbed “Save Women’s Sports Act” in February.
Much of the proponent testimony focused on the physical and psychological differences between men and women, and also called into question the fairness of Lia Thomas, a national championship winning swimmer who has started hormonal treatments, competing with women.
“Hormone therapy doesn’t change the fact that males have a larger frame, greater lung capacity, stronger tendons and ligaments, larger heart, higher red blood cell count, increased bone density, and greater muscle strength than females,” said Nilani Jawahar, the Center for Christian Virtue’s legislative liaison.
State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Lorrain, who repeatedly peppered proponents with questions and observations, made it clear the bill is talking about transgender athletes.
“There are not males,” Miller said. “We have to establish today, in this body, they are not biological males. They are transgender.”
Wednesday’s meeting started with a warning from Committee Chair Tom Young, R-Washington Township.
“I want this meeting to be as kind as possible,” he said. “I will not allow any hazing, hissing, clapping, any type of noise or derogatory movements or attitudes, will be dismissed. This is a very, very important piece of policy that we’ve all worked on in the past.”
Ohio LGBTQ Advocacy organizations are hoping lawmakers reject HB 6.
“Sports allow students to stay healthy, be part of a team, learn invaluable leadership skills and strategic thinking, and foster friendships,” Maria Bruno, Public Policy Director at Equality Ohio said in a news release after the committee meeting. “Banning transgender students from participating at all ages sends a dangerous message to young people in this state.”
HB 6 would require separate single-sex athletic teams and allows athletes to file a civil lawsuit “if the participant is deprived of an athletic opportunity or suffers harm as a result of a violation of the bill’s single-sex participation requirements or if the participant is subject to retaliation for reporting such a violation,” according to an analysis by the Legislative Service Commission.
A similar bill was introduced in the last General Assembly that passed the House, but the Ohio Senate GOP struck out the genital inspection portion of the bill, replacing it with birth certificate checks. The bill ultimately ended up not passing.
HB 6 doesn’t have a genital inspection provision, so Miller asked how someone would determine that an athlete who is competing in a women’s sports is in fact a woman. Schmidt suggested perhaps checking birth certificates or relying on the coaches, but ultimately said that would be a question for Powell.
Some proponents, including Schmidt, argued the bill is about fairness.
“Trans women still have a biological skeleton that is male and you can’t change that,” Schmidt said. “It’s only fair to women, biological women, that we compete against each other. … you can’t put drugs in a transgender woman to make her compete as if she was a biological woman.”
Washington County Commissioner President Kevin Ritter shared anonymous emails he received from female student-athletes he coached at Marietta College who support HB 6, but didn’t want to speak out publicly.
“In any sport, fairness is created by agreeing to the basic rules,” he said. “… The moment that fairness the gone, the integrity of the entire sport is gone. .. This tips the balance.”
Women should compete on a level playing field, said Matt Sharp, senior counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom. “Allowing males to compete in women’s sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities.”
ADF is a conservative Christian legal advocacy group and they represent female athletes in West Virginia, Connecticut, and Idaho.
“This is Ohio,” said state Rep. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson, to Sharp after his testimony. “I just wanted to be sure you were aware of that because a lot of your testimony was focusing on Connecticut.”
Former Ohio State student-athletes show their support of HB 6
Lisa Sebastian, a member of the 1993 Ohio State women’s basketball team who lost to Texas Tech in the National Championship game, spoke in favor of the bill.
“It is a privilege and an awesome responsibility to ensure coaches are aware of, and honor male and female supernatural biological differences and how they can affect safety and fairness in competitive sport,” Sebastian said.
Rachel Davis, a former captain of the Ohio State women’s rowing team, said she supports the bill because it protects women’s sports.
“The passing of this bill gives me the peace of mind to know that my two young daughters will be able to pursue their athletic goals on an equal and level playing field with no concern that a biological male will take their place on the podium, their seat in a boat, or their scholarship on a collegiate varsity sports team,” Davis said.
Transgender athletes in Ohio
There are only six transgender high school female student athletes in Ohio, and of those, only three have been approved to play in the current spring sports season, the OCJ previously reported.
Currently, if a trans girl wants to play on a team with cis girls, she must go through hormone treatments for at least one year or show no physical or physiological advantages, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
There have been 23 transgender female rulings since 2015, and 16 have played, according to OHSAA.
Thomas was the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship and has wound up in the center of a national debate over who can compete in women’s sports.
Thomas previously competed on Penn’s men’s swimming team for three seasons before joining the women’s team. She won the 500 freestyle at the NCAA swimming and diving championships in 2022.
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