Friday, January 27

“Unnecessary and discriminatory” – Ohio Senate holds 3rd hearing to ban trans youth athletes

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On Tuesday, the Primary and Secondary Education committee of the Ohio Senate held a third hearing on HB 151, a bill that would prohibit transgender youth from participating in school sports.

There were 93 statements of written testimony submitted, all of which were in opposition to HB 151 even though the hearing was open to testimony both for and against the bill.

Those who testified in person in front of the committee all expressed the same sentiment of opposition.

“We urge this committee to not advance this bill from the committee or schedule it for further hearings, as it is both unnecessary and discriminatory in nature,” said Dr. Rhea Debussy, Director of External Affairs at Equitas Health, kicking off testimony.

Key testimony provided

Tuesday’s hearing included from testimony from Ember Zelch, the only trans athlete currently approved by the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) to compete in the entire state of Ohio.

“Being a trans athlete isn’t easy, especially when you have to try and prove that you deserve something as simple as the basic right to try out for a sport, something that all your peers take for granted,” said Zelch.

Minna Zelch, Ember’s mother, followed her daughter’s testimony by highlighting the rarity of trans athletes in Ohio, disproportionate to the amount of time the Ohio legislature has spent trying to ban these students from participation:

“According to the OHSAA, fifteen transgender girls have been approved to play girls’ sports in grades 7-12 since 2015. That’s 15 girls in 8 years. So far this year, 4 trans girls have been approved to play. The OHSAA governs about 350,000 athletes every year, half of whom are girls. This means that so far this year, only .00002286% of female athletes in Ohio are transgender.”

Minna further explained Ember’s process of participation.

“We turn over blood tests showing her estrogen and testosterone levels, a list of all the medications she takes along with how long she has been taking them, and her height and weight growth charts,” Minna said. “The process is embarrassing, anxiety inducing, and exhausting, but worth it if it means my kid will get to play a sport she loves.”

Witnesses made a direct link between anti-trans legislation like HB 151 and recent events that have targeted LGBTQ+ Ohioans.

“When you imply that we need to save women’s sports from kids like mine because she is a threat, it tells groups like the Proud Boys that she is a threat,” said Dr. Melissa McLaren, mother of a trans athlete. “The legislation proposed over the past year that has been attacking transgender youth puts a target on their back.”

Dr. Melissa McLaren testifies in opposition to HB 151 (Ohio Channel)

Senator Stephen Huffman (R-Tipp City) attempted to corner McLaren with regards to the scope of the issue, an approach that quickly backfired on Huffman.

HUFFMAN: You mentioned 15 kids in 8 years. What’s the right number for us to do something? Is it 20? Is it 50? Is it 100? You say 15 is not enough. What should the number be?

MCLAREN: I would ask you what the problem is you’re trying to solve. When we’ve demonstrated through testimony and you have links to a lot of different articles demonstrating that transgender girls do not have a biologic advantage over their cisgender peers, my question back to you is what problem are you trying to solve?

HUFFMAN: Ok. You testified that 15 is not enough, so I guess your answer is there’s never enough.

MCLAREN: I guess I would like to know your priority list. Why are these 15 girls ranking higher than ensuring that girls have adequate sports equipment, have adequate training time, aren’t being bumped from the football team during the best practice times, or having to pay for their own uniforms? I would like to know the priority list of why these 15 girls are ranking so much higher on the list than doing things that would actually improve women’s sports in Ohio.

Huffman immediately backed down.

The actual HB 151

Officially titled “Replace Ohio Teacher Residency program with local mentorship,” HB 151 was originally designed to support Ohio’s teachers by giving them additional time for state-required assessment and expanding their mentorship opportunities.

Not a single word of today’s hearing was spent on the original language of supporting teachers.

At 10:35pm on June 1 – at the tail end of a marathon hearing and on the first day of Pride Month – Representative Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) attached the “Save Women’s Sports Act” to the bill, abandoning the entire Ohio legislative process by not having this bill go through the standard legislative procedure of being vetted through committees.

The amendment was passed after 11pm that day by a vote of 56-28, resulting in the “Save Women’s Sports Act” being attached to HB 151.

The full House then passed all of HB 151 – also by a vote of 56-28 – and sent the bill on to the Ohio Senate.

It is anticipated that the Primary and Secondary Education committee will hold a vote on HB 151 on Wednesday morning. 🔥

(A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Senator Huffman as his cousin, Senate President Matt Huffman)

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About Author

Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He received the 2021 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for the LGBTQ Journalist of the Year from the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. He is the author of "Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew" (2017), "LGBTQ Cleveland" (2018), "LGBTQ Columbus" (2019), and "LGBTQ Cincinnati" (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.

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