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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Ohio House Republicans Attach Transgender Ban To Popular College Athlete Bill

When Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) proposed an amendment to ban transgender women and girls from participating in women's high school and college sports, Democrats drowned her out, yelling and pounding on desks demanding a point of order. [Andy Chow / Statehouse News Bureau]
Ohio House debates controversial amendment.

Updaed: 3:40 p.m., Friday, June 25, 2021

A bill that would allow college athletes to receive compensation for their name, image, and likeness was passed by the Ohio House, but not before Republicans attached a last-minute amendment that would ban transgender women from participating in high school and college women’s sports.

The transgender athlete ban already had stand-alone bills in both chambers, House Bill 61 and  Senate Bill 132, but Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) moved to add the HB 61 to the popular college athlete compensation bill Thursday.

Votes against the amendment included every Democrat and a handful of Republicans.

Supporters of the transgender athlete ban say transgender girls and women have an unfair biological advantage over cisgender athletes. Opponents see the proposals as discriminatory against an extremely small group of student-athletes who are already far more likely to be bullied and suffer from higher rates of depression and suicide.

Though he did not explicitly threaten a veto, Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday morning matters of transgender athletes competing should not be decided by politicians.

“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 in a press release.

Melissa Cropper, with the Ohio Federation of Teachers said Friday that by denying them participation in sports, the bill would hurt transgender students, many of whom already face bullying and emotional turmoil.

Plus, she said, the bill is not needed. 

The Ohio High School Athletic Association allows transgender women to compete in women’s sports with guidelines that say, "Participation in interscholastic and intercollegiate athletics is a valuable part of the education experience for all students" and "Transgender student athletes should have equal opportunity to participate in sports."

“The Ohio High School Athletic Association dealt with this issue maybe a decade or so ago so the legislature is creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t even exist," Cropper said.

Under current OHSAA rules, transgender girls can compete if they have either undergone one year of hormone therapy or obtained special permission from their school’s athletic director who found no distinct physical or physiological advantage over other competitors.

On the House floor Thursday, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland) argued women designated female at birth have different body mass, muscle mass, bone structure and lung capacity.

“And yes, the big item in the room, we have menstrual cycles, which also compromises our ability to reach maximum performance on any given day,” Schmidt said on the House floor.

House Democratic Leader Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) countered that the legislation discriminates against transgender kids.

“My menstrual cycle has never stopped me from doing anything. I’m still great, and it is not something that will hold me back. But what does hold me back is hatred,” Sykes said.

Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville) said the ban and its specific language could leave Ohio open to lawsuits. Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) said the amendment made Ohio a “haven for hate” and took issue with the lawmakers who said a vote in favor of the transgender athlete ban was a vote for women’s rights.

“If the General Assembly wants to protect women, we need to turn our attention to equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, a wage discrimination hotline, and reproductive justice,” Brent said. “This is the work that needs to be done to protect women in Ohio, not this discriminatory amendment.”

The House floor grew raucous even leading up to the debate on the amendment. As Powell rose to propose it, House Democrats called for a point of order. When Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) was not recognized for that point of order, Democrats started yelling and banging their desks with a roar drowning out Powell’s initial comments.

Senate Republican Caucus Communications Director John Fortney said the other chamber would not take up the amendment, reasoning that the topic deserves a full set of hearings, which are planned for later this year.

The Senate sidestepped the House’s move by taking the original language of SB 187, the college athlete compensation bill, and adding it, un-amended to a different bill

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.