COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Lawmakers at the Ohio Statehouse voted on Wednesday to move forward on a bill banning transgender athletes from participating in school sports aligned with their gender identity.
House Bill 6 — the “Save Women’s Sports Act” — passed with a vote of 8 to 6 out of the Higher Education Committee on Wednesday and now heads to a floor vote in the Ohio House of Representatives. The measure passed along party lines, except for Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) who was the only Republican to join all Democrats in voting no.
The bill would 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 in a release on Wednesday. “That opportunity is being ripped from them by biological males.”
However, Maria Bruno, public policy director for Equality Ohio, told NBC4 the progression of HB 6 is “alarming.”
“We are very concerned because the language of [the bill] would not only conflict with Title IX, it would also conflict with the existing OHSAA and NCAA standards,” said Bruno.
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 are in the text of the bill.
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 policy was implemented eight years ago, including the six trans high school students taking part during the 2022-23 school year.
The OHSAA, which says about 400,000 athletes in grades 7-12 participate in its sanctioned sports each school year, asserted 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.
Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) introduced the idea of codifying a policy similar to the OHSAA’s rather than passing HB 6 during a hearing on April 19. Mallory Golski, civic engagement and advocacy manager for Kaleidoscope Youth Center, said she would much rather see legislation similar to the OHSAA’s guidelines. However, she and Bruno agree the perfect scenario is for no legislation to be signed into law.
“The legislators don’t need to be doing this at all because [the OHSAA’s] policy already exists,” Bruno said. “It also makes it very hard to modify in the future as we get a better understanding of science and also more information about all the factual parameters of each sport.”
Last year, Gov. Mike DeWine spoke in support of the OHSAA and said he believed the issue is best addressed outside of government. However, NBC4’s Natalie Fahmy asked DeWine in April if he would sign a bill like HB 6 if it came to his desk.
“I’ve learned a long time ago that these bills change all the time,” he said. “And so, we’re going to see what comes out of the legislature. We’re going to look at the bill and make a judgment at that time.”