Ohio House passes ban on transgender women in sports inserted in unrelated bill

Credit: Doral Chenoweth

Credit: Doral Chenoweth

In a late-night move, the Ohio House passed a ban on transgender women competing in women’s sports at Ohio schools and colleges, slipping it into an unrelated bill without committee review.

Amended Substitute House Bill 151 passed 56-28 and now moves to the Ohio Senate — though the Senate is not expected to reconvene for several months.

State Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, introduced HB 151 in February. Originally it made several changes to the Ohio Teacher Residency Program, allowing for more mentoring and opportunities to pass state evaluations for young teachers. In that form the bill unanimously cleared the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee on May 25.

Nearly two hours into the June 1 House session, the bill was “informally passed,” meaning it didn’t get a vote but remained on the legislative calendar. After considering other legislation and recessing for several hours, the House came back to HB 151. After Jones gave a description of the original bill’s contents, state Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, immediately moved to add in the “Save Women’s Sports Act.”

The amendment would prohibit schools, state universities, private colleges and interscholastic sports bodies from allowing “individuals of the male sex to participate on athletic teams or in athletic competitions designated only for participants of the female sex.”

It only addresses athletes who transition male-to-female, not female-to-male.

If anyone questions an athlete’s biological sex, regardless of gender identification, the athlete would have to present a signed doctor’s note indicating the student’s sex via:

· “The participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy

· The participant’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone

· An analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup”

If a school did allow a transgender female athlete to compete on a women’s team, “any participant” in those sporting events could sue the school.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association allows transgender females to participate on a girls’ sports team if they have completed at least a year of hormone therapy for gender transition and/or demonstrate they don’t have physical advantages over genetic females of the same age.

Powell called the amendment a “fairness issue for women” and “crucial to protecting women’s rights.” She said female athletes are losing “championships, scholarship opportunities, medals, education and training opportunities” to “biological males.”

Powell cited Lia Thomas, a swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania. In March, Thomas became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship. That victory was her last event as a college swimmer.

Rep. Phillip Robinson, D-Solon, said the House tried to pass the same prohibition the same way last year by slipping it into another bill, only to see it die in the state Senate.

During the debate on similar legislation last year, Gov. Mike DeWine said the issue of transgender athletics should be handled by sports officials, not legislators.

On Thursday, DeWine’s spokesman Dan Tierney would not confirm if the governor still holds that position, saying, “We do not have any final legislation before us on which to comment.” But he confirmed that DeWine had previously opposed the transgender ban and said the governor’s office was “monitoring the legislation.”

Robinson said a query to OHSAA found that 11 transgender athletes played on Ohio high school sports teams in the past six years, out of “hundreds of thousands” of competitors, and none of those 11 drew any complaints.

“This is an issue searching for a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Similar measures in other states have been blocked by federal courts, and interstate athletic associations have said they will pull their events from Ohio if it passes here, he said.

Robinson said that could have a negative economic impact of up to $400 million.

State Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, called the proposal “equal rights for women,” alleging that transgender women have an unfair physical advantage.

State Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, endorsed that view. She suggested setting up separate teams for transgender competitors.

“We seem to have different groups for everything,” Carruthers said. “Why not a trans swim team? Why not a trans athletic team?”

Rep. Beth Liston, D-Dublin, read out the amendment’s specifics and denounced it as “state-sanctioned bullying.”

“Looking at it practically, this means that if anyone decides to question a child’s true gender, that child must undergo a sensitive exam, possibly including internal evaluation, get a testosterone level measured, have a chromosome analysis sent, and then submit the information to the school,” she said. “Is this what we want: any girl who looks a little too masculine, or any boy who seems a little too feminine, must be subject to this?”

Liston said in seven years there has never been more than one transgender student at a time competing on a high school girls’ team in the entire state.

“There are not scores of girls’ dreams being crushed. There is one child trying to play on their high school sports team,” she said.

Democrats decried the amendment as inappropriate due to its last-minute submission and because it wasn’t related to the original bill.

“Oh by the way, how nice that it’s 11 p.m. at night and we’re attacking trans kids in Ohio,” said state Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid.

They sought unsuccessfully to table it, but the amendment and the bill itself were approved by 56-28 votes.

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