H.B. 61, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” bans schools and colleges in Ohio from permitting “individuals of the male sex” from participating in women’s sports. It covers any school that participates in organized interscholastic athletic conferences, meaning it covers private schools that compete against state-funded schools as well.
The bill does not explain what the “male sex” or “female sex” is. It does not say “trans” or “transgender” anywhere in the bill. It doesn’t talk about birth or biological sex.
What it does instead is give people the power to dispute the sex of an individual athlete. Then it falls upon that athlete to prove their sex by going to a physician and getting a signed statement confirming the athlete’s sex based on only the following:
“The participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy;”
“The participant’s normal endogenously produced levels of testosterone;”
“An analysis of the participant’s genetic makeup.”
The bill does not specify who has the authority to levy such challenges, but it does authorize individuals or schools “who [are] deprived of an athletic opportunity or suffers a direct or indirect harm as a result of a violation of this section” to sue the school, school district, or conference who allowed the trans woman to play and be awarded damages.
So, to be very clear here, no evidence is needed that a particular athlete is trans or not a biological female in order to demand that she prove her sex. The athlete must then go to a physician and either subject herself to a physical inspection of her sexual organs or arrange for hormone or genetic tests. And no, the bill does not fund the costs of such tests.
The bill’s wording is similar to one passed in Idaho in 2020 that is currently being challenged in federal court. This Ohio bill had first been introduced more than a year ago by sponsor Reps. Jena Powell (R–Arcanum) and Reggie Stoltzfus (R–Paris Township). The bill had been referred to the Primary and Secondary Education Committee and never voted on. On Wednesday evening, the text of the bill was attached to H.B. 151, an unrelated bill about the Ohio Teacher Residency Program, and passed.
News 5 in Cleveland notes that there is currently only a single trans female student competing in high school sports in Ohio. Powell, though, insists that this bill is needed to protect biological females.
“I am passionate about this issue because we cannot allow girls’ dreams of being a gold medal athlete to be crushed by biological males stealing their opportunity,” she said. “This bill ensures that every little girl who works hard to make it on a podium is not robbed of her chance by a biological male competing against her in a biological female sport.”
For a moment, let’s aside the cruelty of a complete one-size-fits-all rejection of trans participation in girls’ sports regardless of the sport or situation, the assumption that the trans girl has an advantage, and whether the existence of this problem even requires government intervention.
Let’s instead think for just a few minutes about what is likely to happen if these rules become law. This bill does not require the person levying the complaint to provide any evidence that the accused athlete is trans or not a biological female. The bill puts the onus on the target to prove that she is a biological female and is permitted to compete. And it provides financial incentives for parents, athletes, and other schools to file complaints and officially prohibits retaliation or punishment against anybody who files such complaints.
The potential for these regulations to be used to harass biologically female athletes is very high. Assuming the claim is true that there’s only one trans female athlete competing in Ohio, isn’t the most likely outcome of this bill complaints against biological girls who appear more masculine or muscular, who are stronger than the other girls, and who even have more naturally produced testosterone than other girls, but who are nevertheless the biological females Powell claims she wants to protect?
We live in a country where parents assault the umpires at little league games, for heaven’s sake. You better believe that these rules will be turned against some of the best female athletes by other parents or schools regardless of the girls’ biology. And they’re going to have to subject themselves to intrusive testing to prove who they are. Biological girls are not the beneficiaries of this bill—politicians wanting to score culture war points propping up a particular social conservative constituency are.
There are ways that sports programs can navigate the participation of trans women in a way that can be inclusive of trans athletes yet also recognizes the potential for fraud and can evaluate participants for unfair advantages. But that’s a complicated and challenging process that requires people to be willing to compromise. Politically, Americans are not in a place where that can happen. When Utah politicians attempted to create a compromise bill that would have created a commission to do this, it was replaced at the last minute by a Republican lawmaker with a complete ban.
Though this new ban passed the House, Ohio’s Senate is currently not in session and won’t be back until after the November election. Republicans have a supermajority control of the Senate, so they can most certainly get this bill across the finish line in a post-election lame-duck session.