Watching the hearing for House Bill 6 in the video player above.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A bill preventing transgender girls from participating in school sports received its first hearing at the Ohio 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.

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.

How many trans athletes participate in Ohio sports?

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.

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 in the upcoming 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.

Lawmakers debate during Wednesday’s hearing

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) noted the success of the OHSAA’s current policies during Wednesday’s hearing and said he has not received a complaint from his constituents.

“Why are we inserting big government into parental and children’s decisions?” said Weinstein. “I don’t like the hand of big government getting in my way as a parent, or in my children’s way, of exercising their god given freedom in this country.”

Powell claimed she has heard from female athletes statewide who believe the inclusion of trans girls eliminates a level playing field.

Rep. Bernard Willis (R-Springfield) asked Powell if the OHSAA has ever denied a trans athlete from participating in school sports. Willis said he believes the OHSAA’s current policies are “subjective,” and questioned how medical evidence is determined to be “sound” by the organization. Rep. David Dobos (R-Columbus) said two trans athletes have been denied in the past eight years.

Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville) voiced concern for the mental health of trans girls who will feel ostracized by the legislation, and asked Powell if she has considered “how difficult this will be for kids who are already vulnerable to bullying and teasing.” Powell reiterated her claim the bill facilitates fair competition and said the act protects the integrity of women’s sports.

LGBTQ+ young people are known to have difficulty finding acceptance and support. More than 70% of LGBTQ+ youth are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, while 61% are experiencing symptoms of depression, according to The Trevor Project

Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are more than four times as likely as their peers to attempt suicide, with more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ youth seriously considering suicide each year in the U.S. In addition, research shows 83% of trans and nonbinary youth are worried about being denied the ability to play sports. 

In the coming weeks, House Bill 6 will receive additional hearings with proponent and opponent public testimony.