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Ohio Republicans Once Again Move To Ban Transgender Girls From Girls' Sports

Track hurdle
Andrew McElroy

For the second time in less than a year, Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill to ban transgender girls from girls’ sports.

Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) says the reason for the bill she calls the Save Women’s Sports act is about fairness.

“It is unfair for a biological male to compete against a female in female-only sports. So that's what the bill is and that's what it's all about,” Powell said.

Powell and her Republican co-sponsor Reggie Stoltzfus (R-Paris Township) first introduced the bill last year, right as the COVID pandemic hit. It got one hearing in December.

It was one of many similar bills that were proposed in 2020, said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGTBQ advocacy group in the U.S.

“As COVID ended up really shortening legislative sessions all around the country last year, only one bill passed into law last year, and that was in Idaho. We then saw a real resurgence this year with anti-trans sports bills - more than 60 of them being introduced all around the country this year,” she said.

Oakley said Ohio’s version is similar to the one that passed last year in Idaho. This new version has 14 Republican co-sponsors, four more than last year, and has had one hearing so far.

In that hearing, Powell and Stoltzfus reiterated several times the phrases “biological female” and “biological male” in describing what they say are the physiological advantages the latter has over the former. Neither used the word “transgender.”

The language didn’t go unnoticed by Democratic Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati).

“What we’ve negated is that there are transgenders. When you continue to say ‘biological’, which I think you repeated about ten times in your presentation here, that that disallows that participation,” Ingram said.

This bill only applies to girls’ and women’s sports. There are 35 transgender athletes, 11 of them trans girls, who have been approved to compete on Ohio school sports teams by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, out of about a million athletes.

Rep Joe Miller (D-Amherst) took issue with Powell’s claim that there are “dozens” of examples across the country where cisgender girls are losing championships, scholarship opportunities, medals, educational and training opportunities and more to transgender girls – including in Ohio.

“There is - right now - state, Ohio state holders of championships that are
transgender in women’s sports, is that what I heard?,” Miller said.

Powell answered back that there are some across the country.

No transgender athlete holds a state record in Ohio.

Supporters of these bills bring up that two trans girls placed first and second in an event in the 2019 indoor track state championships in Connecticut.

Cathryn Oakley from the Human Rights Campaign says a lawsuit filed over that was dismissed in
April, and one of the girls who filed it later beat the transgender girls and got a college scholarship, while neither of the transgender runners did.

Oakley said there’s something else behind a bill like this.

“It is absolutely 100% about trying to further marginalize transgender youth, make their lives harder, push them even more to the edges and push them out of public life and public conversation," Oakley said. "So that's why I actually think it's really important to talk about how there have been no examples here.”

Democrats in the hearing brought up the potential impact of the bill on the mental health of trans athletes. Powell said she’s concerned for the health and opportunities of all Ohio children, saying this bill protects girls.

“Legislators don't wait until bad things happen. We are proactive in our legislation to ensure that every little girl in our state can achieve their American dream. And that's exactly what the Save Women's Sports Act does,” Powell said.

The sponsors say they have changed some things from last year’s proposal. For instance, they’ll take out the medical exam required in a dispute over whether an athlete should be able to compete. There have been lawsuits filed over similar bans in other states.