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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Lawmakers in favor of a bill preventing transgender athletes from taking part in school sports aligned with their gender identity are advocating for the end of an Ohio High School Athletic Association policy that has allowed fewer than 20 trans athletes to participate in the last eight years.

House Bill 6 — the “Save Women’s Sports Act” — would bar trans girls from taking part in female athletics and override the OHSAA’s trans student policy adopted during the 2015-16 school year. The policy outlines how the governing body of athletic programs for junior and senior high schools regulates trans athlete participation.

(Courtesy Photo/OHSAA)

Reintroduced in February by Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum), H.B. 6 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.

“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.

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, 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.

What are the OHSAA’s guidelines for trans student participation?

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.

First, the trans student must contact their school or athletic administrator indicating they wish to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity. Upon receiving that notice, the administrator needs to notify the OHSAA using this form.

The policy states trans females, who are “male-to-female,” who have not yet begun medically prescribed hormone treatment may participate on a boy’s team without a ruling from the OHSAA. The same applies to a trans female who is taking hormone treatment.

However, before a trans female can participate on a girl’s team, she must accomplish one or both of the following:

  • Complete a minimum of one year of hormone treatment.
  • Demonstrate to the OHSAA, by way of “sound medical evidence,” that she does not possess physical (bone structure, muscle mass, testosterone, hormonal) or physiological advantages over genetic females of the same age group.

The policy then states trans males, who are “female-to-male,” who have not yet begun medically prescribed testosterone treatment may participate on a girls’ or boys’ team without intervention from the OHSAA. Trans males who have begun testosterone treatment may not participate on a girls’ team.

However, before a trans male who has begun testosterone treatment can participate on a boys’ team, he must complete the following:

  • Demonstrate to the OHSAA, by way of “sound medical evidence,” that the muscle mass developed as a result of the testosterone treatment does not exceed the muscle mass that is typical of a boy in the same age group.
  • The student’s hormone levels must be monitored by a licensed physician every three to six months, with approval rendered on a season-by-season basis.

A decision from the OHSAA will follow the submission of the form and the appropriate documentation. The student can appeal if they disagree with the ruling and scheduled an appeal hearing before the Gender Identity Eligibility Committee. The entire appeal process is outlined at the end of the trans student policy.

Debate at the Ohio Statehouse

Throughout the legislation’s lifespan, the OHSAA has reiterated that it believes its policy is effective. Still, lawmakers and proponents of H.B. 6 argue the policy isn’t enough and advocate for all trans athletes to be removed from school sports aligned with their gender identity.

Nilani Jawahar, from the Center for Christian Virtue, said during the bill’s second hearing in March that the OHSAA’s current policy is not sufficient and claimed a trans 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,” Jawahar said.

Matt Sharp, senior counsel for the nonprofit legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, also spoke in support of the bill in March and cited concern after two trans athletes in Connecticut 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,” Sharp said.

However, Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) noted the success of the OHSAA policy 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,” Weinstein said.

Gov. Mike DeWine also 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 H.B. 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.