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Ohio House passes bill to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls and women's sports

Published By Cincinnati Enquirer on June 24, 2021
Jena Powell In The News

COLUMBUS – House Republicans passed a bill to ban transgender athletes from participating in girls and women’s sports – shoving the proposal into a bill to allow college students to profit off their name, image and likeness. 

The bill passed, 57-36, largely along party lines Thursday. The last-minute change put the underlying goal – to enact a law allowing Ohio athletes to profit off their fame by July 1 – at risk. But later in the day, the Ohio Senate passed the original "name, image and likeness" language as an amendment to another bill.

Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, offered an amendment to ban transgender girls and women from joining female teams in both high school and college. They would, instead, have to join the male teams or co-ed teams. Schools that knowingly violated these rules could find themselves facing civil lawsuits. 

Powell offered the change over the loud objections of Democratic lawmakers, who pounded on tables as Lakewood Rep. Michael Skindell yelled “unfair.”

"The trans children need us to stand up for them. And I cannot believe," House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes started. "Actually, I can believe that we are here, because the cruelty truly is the point." 

Opponents of the change say it’s discrimination against an incredibly small group of kids who already face higher rates of bullying, depression and suicide. Only 11 transgender youth have played girls' high school sports in the past six years under rules set by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

But Republicans argued that the change is about fairness and supporting women.

“Like many of you, I have fought for women’s equality all of my life. And now, I am continuing to fight for it today,” said Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, who argued that menstruation hampered female athletes.

“If you have a daughter, you should believe in this,” said Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton. 

Republican lawmakers pushed the change even though they knew it would threaten bipartisan support for passing name, image and likeness legislation by July 1. Legislators removed an emergency clause that allowed the original bill to take effect immediately.

That’s important because Ohio is racing other states, including Alabama and Georgia, to enact name, image and likeness legislation by July 1. Ohio State University's athletic leaders threw support behind the NIL bill, in part, to avoid a competitive disadvantage with programs in those states. 

"We should not be destroying good bills with bad ones," said Rep. Brigid Kelly, D-Hyde Park.

Before Thursday, Republican Sen. Niraj Antani's name, image, likeness proposal was on track to pass through the Ohio Legislature in record time.

But Senate Republicans wouldn't pass the House-approved version with its new ban on transgender athletes.

"We think that issue deserves a full set of hearings. Period," Senate Republicans' spokesman John Fortney said.

Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson told The Dispatch in a text, "Ohio State supports a clean name, image and likeness bill, like the bill passed by the Ohio Senate, which will support all student-athletes across Ohio."

Ultimately, the Ohio Senate found a new vehicle for NIL late Thursday night. House Bill 29 now goes back to the House for approval before heading to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature.

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