Mar 31, 2023 - News

Ohio bills mirror nationwide targeting of transgender rights

Photo illustration of the Ohio Statehouse collaged with snippets from bills.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Ohio Republicans are again seeking to restrict gender-affirming health care for transgender youth and prevent transgender girls from competing in female sports.

Why it matters: The proposed legislation is part of a nationwide anti-trans agenda that goes far beyond athletic competition to include school policies, health care access and free speech rights.

State of play: Reps. Gary Click (R-Vickery), a Baptist pastor, and Jena Powell (R-Arcanum), are spearheading two key bills at the Statehouse this year.

  • The bills have received early support from dozens of Republicans along with widespread Democratic opposition.

Zoom in: Click's "Saving Adolescents from Experimentation Act" would outlaw gender-affirming surgeries and puberty-blocking drugs for trans minors under 18 years old.

  • Leading medical groups say gender-affirming care is medically necessary and potentially lifesaving, Axios' Oriana González writes.
  • In testifying on his similar bill last term, Click accused medical professionals of supporting gender-affirming care to make a profit and believes kids may change their minds if they wait until they are older.
  • Click has also proposed to designate March 12 as "Detrans Awareness Day."

Separately, Powell is again trying to prohibit trans athletes from competing in high school and collegiate women's sports.

  • A failed attempt last year included a controversial provision requiring an athlete whose gender is challenged to submit to verification of their sex, but that is not in the current bill.

Context: The NCAA and the Ohio High School Athletic Association have policies allowing trans athletes to participate after they have undergone at least one year of hormone treatment.

  • OSHAA executive Director Doug Ute told lawmakers the policy is meant to accommodate students who do not "possess the physical traits that would undermine girls sports."
  • Out of about 400,000 student-athletes, Ute said OHSAA recorded 15 trans female athletes competing in middle and high school sports over the past eight years.

Details: The Ohio Counseling Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics' Ohio chapter have condemned the proposed ban as discriminatory and harmful to trans students' mental health.

The other side: Powell and former athletes in support of the bill say allowing any trans athletes is inherently unfair.

  • "All that girls are asking for is a fair shot, and to be given the chance to play and win by the rules in the sports that they love. That opportunity is being ripped from them by biological males," Powell testified this month.
Anti-trans legislation introduced in Ohio, by category
Data: Trans Legislation Tracker; Note: Legislation includes introduced bills and resolutions; Chart: Axios Visuals

What they're saying: James Knapp, chair of TransOhio's board of directors, tells Axios he sees the legislation as being based on rumors and misunderstandings rather than facts.

  • The bills, he believes, are meant to stop trans youth from transitioning.
  • "No one is making a split-second decision to get on hormones or have surgery. It isn't happening. It isn't even possible."

Of note: Gov. Mike DeWine said last year the issue is best handled by athletic associations, not the legislature.

What we're watching: The bills have not passed out of committee and still have to be considered by the full legislative chamber.

  • There are no pending Ohio bills targeting drag shows, LGBTQ-themed books or bathroom access, as have been proposed in some other states.
  • Lawmakers considered a bill last year to prohibit teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools, but the proposal has not been reintroduced this term.
Data: Trans Legislation Tracker; Note: Legislation includes introduced bills and resolutions; Texas Legislature meets every other year; Cartogram: Simran Parwani/Axios
Data: Trans Legislation Tracker; Note: Legislation includes introduced bills and resolutions; Texas Legislature meets every other year; Cartogram: Simran Parwani/Axios

Zoom out: Ohio's proposed laws are part of a broader effort by Christian and conservative activists to curtail LGBTQ+ rights in statehouses across the country, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

The big picture: The ACLU is tracking more than 430 such bills, a major increase from the number introduced a decade ago.

  • Only a small percentage of the anti-trans bills have passed thus far in 2023, an Axios review found.

Yes, but: At least 11 states have enacted laws limiting or banning gender-affirming care for minors, while nearly 20 have enacted transgender athlete bans.

Meanwhile, numerous Democratic-led states are doing the opposite in seeking to protect patients and health care providers within their borders.

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the state's "Refuge for Trans Kids" bill last year, which is seen as a model for other blue states.
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