Lawmakers in more than 20 states, including Ohio, are pushing bills to block transgender athletes from participating in school sports.
State Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, introduced Senate Bill 132, which would prohibit transgender athletes from competing on teams that align with their gender identities.
Roegner said the bill is about inclusiveness and safety for women.
“Allowing young men, who consider themselves women, gives them an unsafe advantage based on genetics on a women’s soccer field or basketball court for example. People are allowed to make choices in this country. Sometimes those decisions exclude people from certain groups or activities,” said Roegner, a former college athlete who says she doesn’t personally know any transgender Ohioans.
Supporters of restrictions on transgender athletes argue that transgender girls, because they were born male, are naturally stronger and faster than those born female.
Under Roegner’s bill, if an athlete’s sex is disputed, a physician would have to sign a statement indicating the athlete’s sex based on their reproductive anatomy, testosterone levels and genetic makeup.
Teammates who believe they were harmed by transgender athletes who violate the rules would have the right to file lawsuits, according to the bill.
Darius Stubbs, vice chair of TransOhio, called the bill “backward at best and sadistic at worst” and said students whose sex is disputed would be subject to invasive examinations.
“Such a ban on a student’s ability to participate in team sports is not only irrational, it is immoral. Replace the word ‘transgender’ with the name of any other protected class and there would be little argument in support of such obviously ignorant bigotry,” Stubbs said in a written statement.
Transgender is a term to describe people whose gender identity is different from their sex assigned at birth. Gender identity is one’s internal knowledge and feeling. Gender expression is how one presents on the outside, through clothing, hairstyle or other characteristics.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association’s policy requires trans athletes and their families to notify their schools that they would like to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity. The school notifies OHSAA, which then makes a decision based on the impact of medically prescribed hormone treatment undertaken by each athlete.
“We believe our current transgender policy is objective, workable, and practicable,” said Kristin Ronai of the OHSAA.
Over the past six years, OHSAA has granted 35 approvals for female-to-male athletes and 11 approvals for male-to-female athletes in grades 7 to 12. Two requests were denied because of insufficient records. Roughly 400,000 Ohio middle and high school students participate in sports each year.
“The OHSAA believes that all students, regardless of ethnicity, race or gender, should have an equal opportunity to participate in interscholastic athletics programs. We do not believe this current legislation allows for this opportunity to occur,” Ronai said of the bill pending in the Ohio Senate.
A similar bill was proposed last legislative session by state Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, but it failed to gain support.
More than 20 states are debating similar legislation to block transgender student-athletes from participating on teams that align with their gender identities.
“We think think it is a solution in search of a problem. And there is no problem in Ohio or our country,” said Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, acting director of Equality Ohio. “It is essentially another fear campaign that’s based on a lack of knowledge and information, not facts. Trans kids just want the opportunity to participate like anyone else.”
The Associated Press reached out to two dozen state lawmakers sponsoring such measures around the country as well as the conservative groups supporting them and found only a few times it’s been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who play high school sports.
Roegner’s bill would apply to intercollegiate sports as well.
Nearly 550 college athletes signed a letter to the NCAA leadership urging that championship events not be held in states that adopt transgender sports bans. Two student athletes from Ohio State University signed it.
The NCAA issued a statement to the Associated Press that said: “The NCAA believes in fair and respectful student-athlete participation at all levels of sport. The Association’s transgender student-athlete participation policy and other diversity policies are designed to facilitate and support inclusion. The NCAA believes diversity and inclusion improve the learning environment and it encourages its member colleges and universities to support the well-being of all student-athletes.”
The NCAA schedule calls for 42 championship events to be held in Ohio between 2020 and 2026, including the men’s basketball First Four games at University of Dayton Arena.
Roegner said the Ohio Legislature makes policy in the state, not sports organizations and companies.
A Gallup Poll released in February shows that 5.6% of American adults identify as LGBT, up from 4.5% in 2017. The new data show 11.3% of those who identify as LGBT say they are transgender, which represents 0.6% of the U.S. population.
Boyd-Nelson, with Equality Ohio, said school sports are an important path for transgender youths, who are marginalized, to establish positive peer relationships and a sense of belonging.
A 2019 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 27% of transgender high school students do not feel safe at school, 35% report being bullied at school and 35% had attempted suicide in the prior year. A study by GLSEN, an LGBT advocacy organization, reported a higher rate of feeling unsafe at school — 75%.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.
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