COLUMBUS, Ohio — Of about 400,000 Ohio high school athletes, five transgender girls opted this school year to follow their gender identity and compete in women’s sports.
Ohio High School Athletic Association policy, developed with experts from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, allows transgender girls to compete if they have either undergone a year of hormone therapy, or obtained special permission from the school athletic director who finds they harbor no distinct physical or physiological advantage over the other athletes.
The 2020-2021 year was no exception. Four transgender girls obtained approval in 2019-2020; two in 2018-2019; none were approved between 2015 and 2017, according to the OSHAA.
Regardless, Ohio Republicans have joined in a national wave of conservative legislatures proposing legislation to ban transgender girls from women’s high school and collegiate sports, a move LGBTQ advocates characterize as thinly veiled bullying for political points.
“Across our country, female athletes are currently losing championships, scholarship opportunities, medals, education and training opportunities to discriminatory policies that allow biological males to compete in girls’ sports,” said Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, to lawmakers Wednesday.
Her co-lead sponsor, Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus, R-Minerva, called House Bill 61 a “women’s rights” issue.
Kristin Ronai, OHSAA’s director of compliance, said there’s no evidence of transgender girls taking scholarship opportunities away from anyone. She said OHSAA already has a policy for an exceedingly small population that was crafted by experts, and no real problem exists for the legislation to solve.
“I personally, and the rest of our office, have not received one complaint about transgender athlete participation in the state of Ohio,” she said. ”I think a lot of the reference points are to states with different policies than ours.”
Democrats on the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee, which began its review of the House bill (the Senate has its own version as well), said the legislation is a cruel approach to a small population that already experiences stigma, bullying and suicide at disproportionate rates.
“I know you’re worried about the little girls, but this will harm transgender children,” said Rep. Mary Lightbody, D-Westerville.
Ohio is a piece of a national blitz in 2021 of Republican-controlled state assemblies passing legislation banning transgender girls from school.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill similar to Ohio’s into law Wednesday. Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi have done so as well. Montana Republicans sent GOP Gov. Glen Gianforte a similar bill last week. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed the proposal into law this month, despite the lack of a single known transgender athlete in the state. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem issued an executive order last month with the same effect. Idaho was the first state to pass such a ban, which is now tied up in federal court.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, vetoed a ban bill as passed by Republicans last week.
Dominic Detwiler, a lobbyist with LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Ohio, said in a blog post the Ohio lawmakers who signed onto HB 61 are sending a “devastating and false” message to transgender kids that equates to a blatant attack on them.
“The mere existence of bills like this one can have a devastating effect on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth,” he wrote. “LGBTQ youth suicide rates are unspeakably high in Ohio and across our country, and bills like these only add to the existing reality of risk factors in these young peoples’ lives. Every time a bill like this is introduced, calls from Ohio to LGBTQ youth suicide prevention lines spike.”
As currently written, the bill would allow unspecified parties to “dispute” the sex of athletes. When this occurs, the athlete would need to present a signed physician’s statement indicating her sex based on “internal and external reproductive anatomy;” her “normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone;” and an “analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, however, the bill’s sponsors indicated they’re working on an amendment to remove this section of the legislation.
Earlier this month, the NCAA released a statement supporting the rights of transgender athletes but resisting pressure from advocates to pull events from states who pass the transgender bans.