Watch a previous NBC4 report on HB 6 in the video player above.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Trans athletes in Ohio and LGBTQ+ advocates spoke against a bill banning transgender athletes from taking part in school sports aligned with their gender identity at the Statehouse on Wednesday. 

House Bill 6 — the “Save Women’s Sports Act” — would bar trans girls from taking part in female athletics and override the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s trans student athlete policy adopted during the 2015-16 school year.

Rep. Jena Powell (R-Arcanum) and 30 Republican co-sponsors reintroduced the bill in February after the legislation failed to pass Ohio’s General Assembly last year. Powell said 18 other states have passed a similar bill and argues the legislation will facilitate fair competition.

“We cannot allow girls’ dreams of being a gold medal athlete to be crushed by biological males stealing their opportunities,” Powell said in a statement.

The legislation allows an athlete to sue for relief or damages if they are “deprived” of an athletic opportunity by a trans girl. In addition, the bill prohibits a government or athletic association from taking action against schools that enforce the ban.

A previous version of the bill required students to undergo “internal and external” exams to verify their sex for “athletes in question.” The provision was removed and replaced last year with an amendment requiring proof of sex by birth certificate. Now, neither of those provisions are in the text of the bill.

Opponents, lawmakers debate during Wednesday’s hearing

Eighty-three opponents of the bill submitted testimony for the third hearing on Wednesday, with 11 Ohioans testifying in person for the Higher Education Committee before adjournment at noon. The bill’s second hearing last month saw 12 supporters submit testimony.

Mallory Golski, the civic engagement and advocacy manager for Kaleidoscope Youth Center, testified she has coached swimmers from preschool to high school, including a trans swimmer who was voted to be one of the team’s captains for the upcoming season.

“I’ll never forget the day I first saw her show up to practice wearing a girl’s practice suit instead of a boy’s suit,” said Golski. “She struck a pose, beaming as she showed off her blue suit with a colorful floral print. It was clear that she was feeling at home in her body and more like herself than she had ever felt around the pool.”

Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) expressed concern after two trans athletes in Connecticut won high school state championship titles but introduced the idea of codifying a policy similar to the OHSAA’s rather than passing HB 6. Golski said she would support that legislation.

Parker, a trans central Ohio high school student whose full name wasn’t given during the session, testified they have been playing field hockey their entire life and spoke in support of the OHSAA’s current policy. Parker accused lawmakers of only “following on the bandwagon” of the previous 18 states banning trans athletes.

“It is evident that you are not saving women’s sports,” said Parker. “We already have policies in place by the OHSAA that have worked for years. Don’t take the opportunity for trans youth like me to play as their full authentic self.”

Rep. Joe Miller (D-Amherst) asked Rhea Debussy, director of external affairs at Equitas Health, if she knew of any trans athletes who have won any scholarships or championship titles in Ohio. Debussy said she had never heard of any trans athletes in the Buckeye State who received any accolades.

Connor McLaren, also a trans Ohio high school student, said she goes through the OHSAA’s approval policy each year to participate in school athletics. By passing HB 6, McLaren said lawmakers are depriving kids like her the opportunity to feel a sense of belonging when they need it most.

“Playing sports and learning to function with a team, making those connections, and learning how it feels to be part of a group that so genuinely supports you changed my life, and I can’t imagine what I would do without it,” said McLaren. “Please do not pass House Bill 6.”

Melissa McLaren, Connor’s mother, testified she also has a 17-year-old son, Connor’s identical twin. Both ran cross-country in middle school and McLaren said her daughter typically finished in the middle to the back of the pack, while her son would finish last.

“We know from our own personal experiences that athletic ability varies quite a bit within the same gender,” said McLaren. “Thankfully, we have experts in the field, such as the OHSAA, who have developed policies to ensure fairness on single-gender sports teams so that trans athletes, like my daughter, can still play with their friends.”

A second mother and trans daughter, Ember and Minna Zelch, testified. Minna said her daughter wants to play softball at the third division or at the club level in college. How, HB 6 would prevent Ember from participating in Ohio.

Zelch also claimed HB 6 does not protect women’s sports and said lawmakers should instead focusing on providing female athletes with improved equipment and facilities.

“My daughter will contribute to Ohio’s brain drain and go to another state for college,” said Zelch. “Thanks to all the anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced here she never wants to come back to Ohio after she graduates. She feels like she must escape to a more welcoming state just so she can breathe. Like so many others, she had become one of many casualties in your culture war.”

How many trans athletes participate in Ohio sports?

Nineteen trans girls — 10 in middle school and nine in high school — have participated in girls’ sports since the policy was implemented eight years ago, including the six trans high school students taking part during the 2022-23 school year.

The OHSAA, which says about 400,000 athletes in grades 7-12 participate in its sanctioned sports each school year, asserts its policy is effective in protecting the integrity of girls’ sports while also providing participation opportunities for trans students.

“We will continue to educate people on the OHSAA’s transgender policy, which has been successfully implemented for the last eight years and has not resulted in any loss of female participation, championships or scholarship opportunities in Ohio,” the OHSAA said.

The five-page policy states trans athletes “should have equal opportunity to participate in sports” while preserving “the integrity of women’s sports.” The document provides a step-by-step process for a trans student to request OHSAA participation. Learn about the OHSAA’s approval process for trans athletes here.

Gov. Mike DeWine previously spoke in support of the OHSAA and said he believes legislators do not need to address the matter.

“This issue is best addressed outside of government, through individual sports leagues and athletic associations, including the Ohio High School Athletic Association, who can tailor policies to meet the needs of their member athletes and member institutions,” DeWine said.

The third hearing for HB 6 comes as lawmakers also heard the first hearing for House Bill 68 — the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” — on Wednesday, which would bar healthcare professionals from providing gender-affirming treatment to trans and gender non-conforming children in Ohio.