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Ohio bills aim to keep transgender athletes off women's sports teams

SB 132 & HB 61 currently in education committees
Posted at 4:32 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 10:21:26-04

CLEVELAND — Ohio joins a growing list of states with legislatures processing bills aimed at keeping transgender athletes off women's sports teams.

House Bill 61, the Save Women's Sports Act, is a repeat for Rep. Jena Powell.

The Republican from western Ohio first introduced the legislation in early 2020.

"But, due to COVID-19, there were so many things in the legislature that just took first priority," Powell told News 5. "We just didn't get it moved through at the timing that we wanted."

At the end of the 2020 session, the act sponsored by Powell was still in committee where it died because the end of 2020 also marked the end of the biennium, laws needed to be re-filed for any potential action in 2021.

Part of the legislation reads "no school, interscholastic conference, or organization that regulates interscholastic athletes will permit individuals of the male sex to participate on athletic teams or in athletic competitions designated only for participants of the female sex."

Transgender advocates said legislation like this will exclude transgender athletes from participating.

"This is just part of a broader effort to shut trans people out of public life," said Turan.

Advocates and LGBTQ+ allies expected a rise in legislation like House Bill 61 after the results of the November election.

"So we're not surprised that we're seeing pushback, particularly now that we're having increased representation at the federal level," Turan said.

On March 24, Dr. Rachel Levine became the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate for a federal position. Levine is the assistant secretary to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Powell is serving her second term representing District 80.

"So we started hearing stories across the nation where little girls would end up not being on the on the on the gold podium because biological males would end up on the podium over females," Powell said about her motivation to bring the legislation forward for a second session.

Powell spoke to News 5 over Zoom for about 15 minutes. During the conversation, Powell could not cite any examples of this happening in her constituency or in Ohio.

"I've spoken with people across the nation and in our state that are concerned about their little girl losing athletic opportunity."

Last week, Powell's bill gained a companion in the Senate.

Northeast Ohio Senator Kristina Roegner introduced the same legislation as Senate Bill 132.

Roegner did not cite specific examples from her district but said people had been talking about transgender athletes.

"There's been a lot of discussions, both nationally, but also, yes, in our district about this topic," she said. Roegner represents Senate District 27. For her, supporting the legislation is "an issue of fairness and safety."

The Ohio High School Athletic Association has a framework for transgender athletes to petition and participate in sanctioned sports.

It was adopted during the 2015-2016 school year and data from the association shows there have been 45 petitions from transgender athletes since the inception. There has been one denial. Part of the five-page policy states an athlete must be on hormone therapy for a year and have medical paperwork from a doctor.

"And after that point, they would be able to, you know, present to the governing body, and say, you know, I'm a trans person. This is my transition journey," Turan said.

The second line of the OHSAA policy affirmation reads "Transgender student athletes should have equal opportunity to participate in sports." If HB 61 or SB 132 become law, Turan said it will be a regression of the current system.

OHSAA told News 5 there are about 400,000 student athletes in Ohio playing association sanctioned sports.

Even though the bills are at the start of the process - both are waiting for hearings in the chamber's respective education committees - transgender advocates worry passage could harm transgender youth. Turan said legislation like this could have a larger impact on the state similar to the impact the "Bathroom Bill" had on North Carolina, Turan worries bills like this would stop people and companies from coming to Ohio.

"That's not just LGBTQ people. That's just people who believe in equality. And I think most Ohioans believe in equality."