COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Transgender girls are banned from participating in female sports teams in high school or college in two bills introduced by Republican lawmakers in Ohio that became the youngest state to start the controversial debate.
The proposals, titled “Save Women’s Sports Act”, would require schools and higher education institutions in the state to designate “separate same-sex teams and sports for each gender”.
“In most cases, when young women are forced to compete against young men in sport, they are fundamentally disadvantaged,” GOP MP Reggie Stoltzfus told members of the House’s Education Committee last week. “A disadvantage that endangers their athletic performance and even their prospects for a scholarship.”
Bill sponsors say it is an attempt to uphold fairness and protect the integrity of women’s sports in Ohio, though none of the lawmakers pointed out a single case where it was a problem in the state.
These proposals make Ohio the youngest state to join the national debate on how transgender athletes can compete in high school and college sports, causing criticism from members of the transgender community and supporters.
If the bills were passed, “trans people would lose opportunities and face higher risk factors such as mental health problems, substance addiction and thoughts of suicide,” Eliana Turan, Greater Cleveland LGBT Community Center development director, told The Associated Press. “If we want to talk about saving women and girls, we’re saving all women and girls, including trans women.”
Idaho passed its law last year, and more than 20 states considered such proposals this year. Bans have been issued in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Florida legislature passed law and South Dakota governor passed executive order.
While GOP lawmakers across the country grapple with the issue, in almost all cases, sponsors of the proposals are unable to cite a single case in their own state or region where such involvement has caused problems, according to analysis by The Associated Press in March.
The same goes for the sponsors of the two Ohio bills.
When asked during a committee hearing last week how many 12- and 13-year-old girls had scholarships revoked for being outdone by transgender women, GOP MP Jena Powell, the other main sponsor, mentioned one case specifically in Connecticut, but none in Ohio.
“Across the country there are girls who used to hold championships that are now held by biological men, which is stripping scholarships, medals, and advances in sports,” said Powell, a Republican from west Ohio.
The state organization responsible for making these determinations, the Ohio High School Athletic Association, said this is not the case in Ohio. As of fall 2015, the association has ruled 48 cases in which transgender students apply for the competition, and there have only been 11 admissions for transgender women.
“These eleven admissions have not disrupted competition in terms of competitive equity and have not caused any loss in women’s participation, championships or scholarship opportunities,” said Tim Stried, spokesman for the association, in a statement. “The OHSAA is confident that our medical science-based policies are capable of responding to transgender inquiries and working for the benefit of all physical education students and member schools.”
The OHSAA does not track entry after approval, so it is unclear how many of these transgender students entered the contest.
Committee members also expressed concern last week about the mental health implications that either side of the problem could have.
“There’s so much more to this bill than just a physiological benefit,” said Democratic MP Mary Lightbody. “This bill will harm the mental health of some of Ohio’s most vulnerable children.”
Legislators who supported the passage of the proposal said it was not their intention. However, proponents say that regardless of their intent, the proposals would do irreparable harm.
“(These bills) would hurt trans women and girls by invalidating their identities, normalizing and promoting transphobic bullying, and effectively preventing trans youth from participating in the natural human right to participate in sports,” Turan said.
Associate press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins of Columbus and Lindsay Whitehurst of Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report. Farnoush Amiri is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program that lets journalists report undercover issues to local newsrooms.