Metro Weekly

Transgender Athlete Ban Fails to Pass in Ohio, But May Return Next Year

Opponents of the ban say it is unnecessary, pointing to existing policies for determining whether trans athletes are eligible to compete.

Ohio Statehouse – Photo: Sean Pavone, via Dreamstime.

A proposal to prohibit transgender athletes from competing based on their gender identity failed last week after lawmakers in the Ohio House of Representatives rejected the bill to which it had been attached. 

The bill, which had sought to give the governor more power in overseeing K-12 education by taking oversight of the state’s education department away from the State Board of Education and its elected superintendent, and handing it over to a director appointed by the governor, reports Spectrum News

The transgender athlete ban, which sought to bar transgender females from competing on sports teams designated for girls, was attached to the education overhaul bill at the last minute, in the final days of the current legislative session.

The bill passed the Senate, but encountered resistance from House lawmakers who objected to stripping power away from the State Board of Education. Proponents of the measure argued it would make the state quicker and more efficient in responding to educational crises than the current board, but opponents said it would just further politicize education by allowing the governor to pursue a personal agenda. The bill is effectively dead for this session, but could return next year. 

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who supported overhauling the educational system, questioned the need for the transgender athlete ban, saying such matters are better handled by leagues and athletic associations. 

The Ohio High School Athletic Association already has a policy in place regarding transgender athletes. Under that policy, a transgender female — regardless of whether they are taking puberty blockers or hormone therapy — may participate on a boys’ team at any time. A transgender female who wishes to compete on girls’ teams must either complete a full year of hormone treatment or demonstrate, with medical evidence, that she does not posses physical or physiological advantages over cisgender females competing in that sport.

The OHSAA policy allows transgender males who have not yet begun hormone treatments to participate on girls’ or boys’ teams, without requiring approval from the organization’s executive director. However, once a trans male begins hormone therapy, they may not participate on any girls’ team and must demonstrate, using medical evidence, that the muscle mass developed as a result of testosterone treatments “does not exceed the muscle mass that is typical of an adolescent genetic boy.” Trans males also must submit to regular monitoring by a licensed physician every three to six months, and must receive approval for each individual sport season before competing. 

Opponents of the trans athlete ban argue that the number of transgender athletes seeking to compete in female-designated sports is very small, and that the OHSAA policy is sufficient to ensure that transgender athletes do not possess a significant or unfair advantage over their fellow competitors.

While Republicans, who control the legislature, are largely in favor of a ban prohibiting transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports, an original stand-alone bill imposing such a ban ran into resistance, in part due to language that would have subjected transgender athletes — and more importantly, any cisgender girl accused by opponents of being transgender — to internal and external “reproductive anatomy” exams.

A Senate committee eventually removed language requiring the exams after Democrats pounced on Republicans for the provision, arguing that it was ripe for abuse — because some athletic challengers or coaches might accused talented athletes of being transgender in order to sideline them and give their own team a competitive advantage — and would have forced doctors to perform invasive exams on youth.

Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park), a survivor of child sexual abuse, called the provision “nothing short of state-sanctioned sexual abuse.”

The provision got so much negative press that even House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) approved gutting the language, despite the members of his caucus originally having voted for it, reports Ohio University Broadcasting station WOUB.

As a result, the new language approved by the Senate committee would have required a student to provide a birth certificate reflecting the sex they were assigned at birth.

Opponents of the bill argued that Republicans were simply pushing “political messaging” bills designed to help them electorally, rather than solving a problem that exists. They pointed to OHSAA’s existing policies and procedures for determining whether transgender athletes have a competitive advantage as sufficient, with some lawmakers even arguing the proposed ban be scrapped in favor of a bill codifying OSHAA policies into law.

“This bill will affect every single transgender girl in sports, all of whom will have an original birth certificate marked with male. The whole point of OHSAA’s existing policy is to separate boys from transgender girls by obligating athletes to show proof of actual transition,” Maria Bruno, the public policy director for Equality Ohio, which opposed the bill, told WOUB. “This bill replaces that standard in a way that would instead ban all transgender athletes from sports.”

Despite the failure of the education overhaul bill, and, as a result, the transgender ban, it is likely that Republicans, who fared well in Ohio’s midterm elections, will return when the legislature convenes next year with a bill that bars transgender athletes from competing altogether. Successful passage of such a bill would make Ohio the 19th state in the nation to impose restrictions on transgender youth athletes. 

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