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Legislation barring trans athletes from women’s sports introduced in Ohio House

trans sports
Posted at 8:32 AM, Mar 09, 2023

The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.

A bill to keep trans athletes from participating in women’s sports in college and youth athletics was introduced in the Ohio House on Wednesday.

State Rep. Jena Powell’s House Bill 6 came to the House Higher Education Committee, where Powell spent her testimony emphasizing the biological differences between males and females, and decrying a “biological male” ending up with a gold medal or championship in a women’s sport.

“I am passionate about this issue because we cannot allow girls’ dreams of being a gold medal athlete to be crushed by biological males stealing their opportunities,” Powell told the committee.

The bill requires separate single-sex athletic teams and allows athletes to file a civil lawsuit “if the participant is deprived of an athletic opportunity or suffers harm as a result of a violation of the bill’s single-sex participation requirements or if the participant is subject to retaliation for reporting such a violation,” according to an analysis by the Legislative Service Commission.

Democrats on the committee tried to pin down the amount of athletes the bill might impact, which is low according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association, and they pressed Powell on whether she believed trans women existed.

“I’m really more concerned about trans girls in our schools right now,” said state Rep. Mary Lightbody, D-Westerville. “It’s their mental health that I’m concerned about.”

Powell would only use the term “biological male” instead of “trans woman” when speaking on her bill, but insisted the legislation aimed to keep a “level playing field” and maintain the integrity of federal Title IX law.

State Rep. Joe Miller, D-Lorrain, expressed his hope that proponents and opponents of the “very challenging bill” would be “very intentional” in dealing with the topic. He also pushed back on ideas made throughout Wednesday’s hearing that having trans athletes might foil attempts by fellow athletes to receive scholarships or achieve dreams.

“I believe they will get scholarships and they will go off to live their dreams, even if there’s somebody competing with a slightly better advantage,” Miller said. “Ask anyone that has gone up against LeBron James.”

The bill already has more than two dozen Republican co-sponsors as it begins its journey through the GOP supermajority General Assembly.

One of those co-sponsors is state Rep. Derrick Merrin, R-Monclova, who has been causing an uproar in the House after being elected by the GOP House caucus initially to become speaker, only to be beat out in the full chamber by current Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill.

Merrin has since been leading his own faction of the Republican party in the state, with their own legislative priorities.

As a member of the Higher Ed Committee, Merrin put his support behind the bill, arguing the bill empowers students competing in girls and women’s sports.

He also said support for the bill was so strong across the state that if an amendment was made to the bill to allow each school district to implement their own policy on it, he felt strongly the measure would be applied as written in the bill.

A similar measure was presented in the last GA, however it fell short of passage after heavy criticism and hesitation due to a provision of the previous bill that would have allowed genital examination to prove biological gender.

“This has passed in the House multiple times, because the House knows women want to continue playing on a level playing field,” Powell said.

Powell said she expects to hear from groups on both sides of the issue in future committee hearings, including the OHSAA, who have already established a policy on participation of trans athletes.

State Rep. Dave Dobos, R-Columbus, jumped in when Powell was asked for statistics on any denials of trans athletes in Ohio sports. Citing OHSAA data, Dobos said there were 23 instances of trans students asking to compete in the sport matching their gender identity over the last eight years. Of those, two were denied.