COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohioans in favor of a bill preventing transgender girls from participating in school sports spoke at the Statehouse on Wednesday. 

House Bill 6 — the “Save Women’s Sports Act” — would bar trans girls from taking part in female athletics and require “schools, state institutions of higher education and private colleges to designate separate single-sex teams and sports for each sex,” the bill states.

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 18 other states have passed a similar bill and argues the legislation will facilitate fair competition. 

“We cannot allow girls’ dreams of being a gold medal athlete to be crushed by biological males stealing their opportunities,” Powell said in a statement.

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

A previous version of the bill required students to undergo “internal and external” exams to verify their sex for “athletes in question.” The provision was removed and replaced last year with an amendment requiring proof of sex by birth certificate. Now, neither of those provisions is in the text of the bill.

“The fact that [House Bill 6] has been introduced and introduced as a piece of priority legislation is a step back for Ohio, regardless if it includes genital inspections,” the Director of External Affairs at Equitas Health, Rhea Debussy, previously told NBC4.

Proponents, lawmakers debate during Wednesday’s hearing

Twelve supporters of the bill submitted testimony for the second hearing on Wednesday. The hearing was only open to proponents of the bill with opponent testimony to be held later.

Matt Sharp, senior counsel for nonprofit legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, spoke in support of the bill and cited concern after two trans athletes in Connecticut who won high school state championship titles.

“Across the country, we are seeing more and more instances in which biological males have taken away championships, records, and countless athletic opportunities from female athletes,” said Sharp.

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) noted the success of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s current policies and questioned why athletes in Connecticut are relevant. When asked by Weinstein whether Sharp was representing any Ohio athletes at Wednesday’s hearing, Sharp said he was not.

“Are you aware that you’re in Ohio? Because, in Ohio, we’ve had an OHSAA policy that’s worked [since] 2013 and you’re talking about Connecticut,” said Weinstein.

Nilani Jawahar, from the Center for Christian Virtue, said the OHSAA’s current policies are not sufficient and claimed a transgender athlete is only required to “take cross-sex hormones for a year” to compete.

“To suggest that the experience of being a woman is simply a hormone level — that all a man has to do is take some estrogen and he can be seen as her equivalent is demeaning,” said Jawahar.

OHSAA policy states a transgender athlete must demonstrate, by way of sound medical evidence, that she does not possess physical or physiological advantages over females of the same age group. This requirement is in addition to completing a minimum of one year of hormone treatment related to gender transition.

Rachel Davis, the former captain of the Ohio State University’s women’s rowing team, cited the results of a men’s and women’s indoor rowing competition held annually. Davis said there was a more than a one-minute gap between the male and female winners and said if the first place female athlete was in the men’s category, she would have placed 36th.

“The passing of this bill gives me the peace of mind to know that my two young daughters will be able to pursue their athletic goals on an equal and level playing field with no concern that a biological male will take their place on the podium,” said Davis.

When asked by Rep. Joe Miller (D-Lorain) if Davis had ever knowingly competed against a transgender athlete in a rowing competition, she said no.

How many trans athletes participate in Ohio sports?

Six trans girls received approval in the state to participate in female high school sports for the 2022-23 school year, with three taking part this spring season, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association. There are not any trans athletes in middle school sports.

The OHSAA said in a statement that current policies are 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.

Gov Mike DeWine previously spoke in support of the OHSAA and said he believes legislators do not need to address the matter.

“This issue is best addressed outside of government, through individual sports leagues and athletic associations, including the Ohio High School Athletic Association, who can tailor policies to meet the needs of their member athletes and member institutions,” DeWine said.

The reintroduction of House Bill 6 comes as lawmakers have also reintroduced House Bill 68 — the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” — which would bar healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming treatment to trans and gender non-conforming children in Ohio.