Metro Weekly

Attack Ads Cast Ohio Trans Athlete Ban as “Genital Exams” Bill

Republican-backed bill would force athletes whose biological sex was questioned to submit to doctors' exams and testing.

Photo: Maskmedicare Shop, via Unsplash.

A national education advocacy nonprofit has begun running ads attacking a proposed bill that could require student athletes to undergo exams of their “internal and external reproductive anatomy.”

House Bill 151, which passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives in June, is intended to bar transgender female athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity. Under the bill, if any athlete merely believes that they have been “deprived of an athletic opportunity” from having to compete against an athlete believed to be transgender, they may sue. 

As part of the law’s enforcement mechanism, if a female athlete is accused by fellow competitors of being transgender or having an unfair biological advantage, they must submit a signed statement from a physician attesting that they have verified the student’s sex through a pelvic examination or blood tests examining naturally-occurring testosterone levels in their blood or analyzing their genetic makeup.

At the time, Democrats, physicians, and other critics of the proposed law denounced the bill’s provisions, calling the bill “sick” and “disturbing,” and noted that the bill could potentially allow any female athlete — even those who are not transgender — to be subjected to genital exams if they don’t conform to gender norms or appear to be too athletically talented.

State Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) said that schools would likely — out of fear of being sued under the law — would immediately bench student athletes whose sex was questioned and not allow them to return until they agreed to submit to such exams, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

“She’s way too tall. She’s way too good. She doesn’t look like a girl to me. She doesn’t ever wear dresses. These are things that can prompt a question,” Liston said, listing the reasons that could lead a female athlete to be forced to submit to a genital exam, which she argued could be traumatizing. 

Demonstrating how easily misinformation can spread and potentially harm those accused of being transgender, Ben Ferree, a former Ohio High School Athletic Association employee told the USA Today Network Ohio Bureau, at the time the bill was proposed, that a state lawmaker had told him a story about an alleged transgender girl dominating eighth-grade basketball in 2019. Upon checking, the employee discovered that the entire incident had been fabricated.

“We didn’t have a record of a trans athlete being at that school or even that sport, so we called to check,” Ferree said, according to the Dispatch. “The school told us, ‘They’re probably thinking about this girl who is very large for an eighth-grade girl and has a short haircut.'”

The backlash against the bill’s examination provisions temporarily halted the bill’s progress, but did not lead to its defeat. The bill could be passed by the Ohio Senate at any time before the end of the year. But rather than wait, an education nonprofit known as the Campaign for Our Shared Future has begun running advertisements attacking the bill, hoping that its harsh rhetoric will encourage Ohioans to lobby against it. 

The ads feature young girls playing sports and staring directly into the camera. In one ad, a narrator says, “These politicians think they have the right to inspect our children’s bodies,” while the other accuses supporters of the bill of trying to “legalize child sexual assault in sports.”

While the ads don’t call out the specific politicians who sponsored HB 151, or Republican lawmakers generally, proponents of the bill have balked at the ad’s suggestions. But the Campaign for Our Shared Future is standing by the ads.

“This [bill] was particularly egregious we and to make sure families understand what this bill is asking,” Heather Harding, the group’s executive director, told the Dispatch. “I have a middle school daughter. She plays volleyball, and I would never want her subjected to this kind of physical exam.”

The ads are also interesting because they flip the traditional narrative around transgender inclusion on its head. Typically, social conservatives and their allies have used transgender rights as a wedge issue by appealing to people’s opposition to allowing trans athletes to compete based on their gender identity. But due to Ohio Republicans’ possible overreach with HB 151, supporters of inclusion now have the chance to cast their opponents as the ones who hold out-of-the-mainstream views.

LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Ohio expressed support for the ads.

“We are pleased to see ads from COSF that shine a clear light on how bills like this hurt all kids,” Equality Ohio Public Policy Director Maria Bruno said in a statement. “We also know that LGBTQ+ kids, and especially our transgender youth continue to be the most vulnerable targets of such harmful legislation.”

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