COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A majority in Ohio opposes transgender athletes participating in female sports and drag performances where children are present, according to a new poll surveying 500 voters.

Seventy percent of respondents said they are against trans girls participating on sports teams consistent with their gender identity, according to a Suffolk University and USA Today poll interviewing Ohioans between July 9 and 12. Twenty-two percent responded in favor of trans athletes and 9% said they are undecided.

Polling also found 66% are in favor of restricting all drag performances to patrons 18 years of age and older. Thirty percent disagreed and 4% reported they are undecided.

Trans athlete ban at Ohio Statehouse

The polling mirrors legislation moving through the Ohio Statehouse. The House of Representatives passed a bill in June to bar trans girls from taking part in female athletics and override the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s trans student-athlete policy adopted during the 2015-16 school year.

Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) and 30 Republican co-sponsors reintroduced the bill in February after the legislation failed to pass Ohio’s General Assembly last year. Powell said 21 other states have passed a similar bill and argues the legislation will facilitate fair competition.

“All that girls are asking for is a fair shot, and to be given the chance to play and win by the rules in the sports that they love,” Powell said. “That opportunity is being ripped from them by biological males.”

The legislation allows an athlete to sue for relief or damages if they are “deprived” of an athletic opportunity by a trans girl, and prohibits a government or athletic association from taking action against schools that enforce the ban.

Rep. Anita Somani (D-Dublin) said the legislation furthers misinformation regarding gender-affirming care and will ostracize trans youth. Somani also noted a similar Arkansas law banning trans healthcare was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge

“Trans women who are on estrogen, their testosterone levels drop within six months,” Somani said. “It is not an absolute that trans women will always beat cisgender women. That’s a misconception.” 

How many trans athletes participate in Ohio sports?

Nineteen trans girls -- 10 in middle school and nine in high school -- have participated in girls’ sports since the OHSAA’s policy was implemented eight years ago, including the six trans high school students who took part during the 2022-23 school year.

The OHSAA, which said about 400,000 athletes in grades 7-12 participate in its sanctioned sports each school year, asserts its policy is effective in protecting the integrity of girls’ sports while also providing participation opportunities for trans students.

“We will continue to educate people on the OHSAA’s transgender policy, which has been successfully implemented for the last eight years and has not resulted in any loss of female participation, championships or scholarship opportunities in Ohio,” the OHSAA said.

The five-page policy states trans athletes “should have equal opportunity to participate in sports” while preserving “the integrity of women’s sports.” The document provides a step-by-step process for a trans student to request OHSAA participation. Learn about the OHSAA’s approval process for trans athletes here.

Drag queen ban introduced

Lawmakers are also proposing a bill at the Ohio Statehouse similar to an unconstitutional Tennessee law to prohibit drag queens’ performances in public or where children are present.

Introduced in July, the bill bans “adult cabaret performances,” defined as a show “harmful to juveniles” that features “entertainers who exhibit a gender identity that is different from the performers’ or entertainers’ gender assigned at birth.” The bill would prohibit these shows in all locations other than “adult cabarets,” meaning “a nightclub, bar, juice bar, restaurant, bottle club or similar establishment.”

Reps. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) and Angela King (R-Celina) are proposing the bill with the support of 41 out of 67 Ohio House Republican representatives. The 43 lawmakers outline the following penalties if entertainers are found violating the proposed law:

  • A misdemeanor of the first degree if a performance occurs in the presence of a juvenile under the age of 18.
  • A felony of the fifth degree if the performance is “obscene.”
  • A felony of the fourth degree if the performance is “obscene” and occurs in the presence of a juvenile under the age of 13.

Williams said the bill’s intention is to modernize Ohio’s revised code regarding obscenity viewed by minors, not to effectively ban drag in Ohio. The lawmaker stressed that the proposed measure only means to prohibit shows “harmful to juveniles,” with events like drag story time readings and plays like “Mrs. Doubtfire” covered under the First Amendment.

“We’re saying, look, we want equality for all, we want everyone to be treated equally in the state of Ohio, that includes our entertainers,” he said. “You’re going to be held to the same standard, which is don’t engage in obscene conduct in the presence of a minor.”