Proposed Ohio bill would prevent transgender athletes from playing on school sports teams

Republican Rep. Jena Powell is the representative in the Ohio House of Representatives who reintroduced the bill focused on trans student athletics.

Ian Jameson Reporter

Ohio’s statehouse is currently reviewing a bill focused on trans student athletes. Senate Bill 132, if passed, would require high schools, universities and private colleges to designate separate “single-sex” teams and sports for each biological sex.  

Republican Rep. Jena Powell reintroduced the blanket ban to the Ohio House of Representatives earlier this year. The proposal has been backed by 14 other co-sponsors.   

The “Save Women’s Sports Act” was originally introduced in early 2020.  

The bill also says if a participant’s sex is disputed, they will have to establish it by presenting a signed physician’s statement. The statement would determine the participants’ internal and external reproductive anatomy, naturally produced testosterone levels and genetic makeup. 

Powell’s office was asked for comment, but could not be reached during scheduled appointments. When the bill was announced in February, Powell said biological males are competing against females nationwide and “it robs females of their athletic opportunity.”

Many medical professionals, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, say such claims are based on “myths” and “misinformation.” 

Timothy Roberts, director of the adolescent medicine training program at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, said in an interview that his research shows that a transgender woman who transitions before or at puberty “doesn’t really have an advantage” when it comes to athletic performance.  

This person should be able to play with other people who are born as biological women, Roberts said.  

If this legislation is passed, trans students would also lose important physical and mental health benefits, said Dominic Detwiler, Equality Ohio’s public policy strategist. Equality Ohio is an LBGTQ+ education and advocacy non-profit affiliated with the national Equality Federation.

“It will increase stigma and isolation of transgender young people, who already experience bullying and social stigma at significantly higher levels than their cisgender peers,” Detwiler said. 

SB 132 would require athlete’s whose biological sex is in dispute to undergo examinations and tests from a physician to prove they belong on one team or the other.

“People’s bodies are very diverse in hundreds of different ways, and very little of that difference, if any, has to do with the sex assigned at birth,” Detwiler said. 

Any institution in Ohio that is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or the National Junior College Athletic Association would have to designate athletic teams that are based on the sex of the participant.  

Organizations such as the NCAA have implemented policies and rules regarding trans participants, with some dating back to 2011.  

The state of Ohio also uses the Ohio Athletic Equality Index as a measurement of inclusion. Colleges are scored on how they make sports more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community.  

The index’s main goal is to provide feedback to NCAA athletic departments on how their inclusion policies compare to other institutions across the nation. Scores are based on empirical dimensions that improve the experiences of LGBTQ+ members in athletic programs.  

Kent State is one of the two colleges in the state that has received a perfect score on Ohio’s Athletic Equality Index. The passing of this legislation could affect multiple dimensions covered in the index, including the trans inclusion policy. 

The ACLU and other civil liberty advocacy groups have been challenging similar bills for years, with one of their common arguments being a concern for privacy and bodily autonomy.  

Ohio’s bill, as well as similar bills proposed in other parts of the country, states trans students would have to be examined by a physician to verify their biological sex before competing on the team they identify with. 

The bill could also be theoretically used against any student-athlete, not just trans ones, said AJ Leu, diversity and career development director in the College of Communication and Information. 

“Any kid can be targeted through any of these different laws, especially these trans athlete bills,” Leu said. “It’s basically saying if any athlete at all is talented and they’re perceived as very athletic and a threat, anyone at any point could decide that they need to test this person and confirm that this person is of the sex that they claim to be a part of.” 

Proposal of similar legislation has increased across the country, with over 30 states currently voting on one or more of a total of 140 individual anti-trans bills, as of early April this year. 

Anti-trans laws have been discussed in court as far back as the 1960s. A more recent and nationally discussed example surrounding trans issues was North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” in 2016.  

Bathroom bills make it illegal for transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. In 2017, the North Carolina bill was partially repealed by the state’s legislature with compromise on both sides.  

The underlying argument against these bills stems from the distinction between biological sex and gender. 

Science recognizes that sex is different than gender. These two terminological differences were first studied by researcher John Money in the 1950s.  

Currently, it’s accepted that gender and biological sex are not binary, rather a spectrum. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “By age four, most children have a stable sense of their gender identity.” 

Kent State students, staff and faculty say legislation like this deeply affects them. 

“Ever since the North Carolina bathroom bill was passed, my gut reaction is fear. I grew up in rural Ohio and as one of the few trans people from my hometown, I know how I was perceived there,” said Adam Wilson-Artz, a freshman music education major, in an email. 

“I believe that this has become such a hot topic right now because we give politicians and influencers the platform to fearmonger,” he said in an email. “There’s no malicious intent of sneaking into bathrooms or ‘changing gender’ to beat opponents in sports.” 

“Bills like this stem from ignorance and unscientific, medically unsupported concepts,” said Erica Pelz, vice president of Spectrum Kent and advisor for Transfusion.  

Spectrum Kent is an on-campus organization that connects LGBTQ+ faculty, staff, students and allies and pushes for inclusive policies and support services. Transfusion is a similar on-campus support group for trans students and other allies. 

These actions have a direct and noticeable effect on Kent State’s trans community as well as an effect on the entire state and country, according to Pelz. She sees these effects in person and on the Discord server Transfusion uses to communicate. 

Suicide hotlines already receive a disproportionate number of calls from trans adolescents and adults. These calls increase when the LGBTQ+ community as a whole is attacked. 

“I would suggest that the people who think [this bill] is a good idea need to spend time listening to the phone calls that come into the helplines,” Pelz said. “This is abusive. This is bullying disguised as being concerned for girls in sports.” 

As a parent and member of the LGBTQ+ community, these bills deeply concern Leu.  

“Anyone’s kids could be trans, so this affects all of us. You don’t know how your kid is going to identify when they grow up and who they’re going to be yet,” they said. “Even if it’s not going to affect you personally because you’re not in school right now or you don’t have children who are in school or you don’t have an [student] athlete, where does it stop?” 

If someone wants to get involved, connecting with local, state and national advocacy groups is a great way to help the trans community, Leu said.

Ian Jameson covers statehouse. Contact him at [email protected]