Republicans in the Ohio House voted Wednesday to approve measures that would deny gender-affirming care for transgender minors and block transgender girls from competing in girls sports, along with a Parent’s Bill of Rights measure that advocates warn could require schools to forcibly out LGBTQ students.
Each measure has drawn considerable opposition from individuals and groups around medical care, sports and education, and all drew scorn from transgender advocates for directly targeting or indirectly affecting Ohio’s transgender youth.
Proponents say they are motivated by protecting children.
Saving Adolescents from Experimentation Act
The 64-28 vote on House Bill 68 approves two measures, one blocking gender-affirming care to minors and another prohibiting transgender girls from competing in girls sports. The measures, combined earlier this week, now move to the Senate for further consideration.
Originally, HB68 was the vehicle for the “Saving Adolescents from Experimentation Act” — the second attempt by Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, to ban gender-affirming care for minors. Under the bill, doctors would be prohibited from performing surgeries or prescribing hormones or puberty blockers to treat gender dysphoria regardless of parental consent, among other things.
Twenty-four proponents testified in support of the bill, including parents concerned about gender-affirming care, out-of-state detransitioners who came to regret the care they received, and a handful of organizations. Three-hundred-and-thirty-seven individuals or groups testified against, characterizing the bill as unnecessary and dangerous to trans youth.
One of those opponents was West Chester Twp. Trustee Ann Becker, an active Butler County Republican and mother of a college-aged transgender son. Becker told House lawmakers that HB68 was a government overreach that would deny transgender kids and their families medical autonomy.
“House Bill 68 says that transgender parents are not free or independent. House Bill 68 takes parents’ rights and turns them over to you, the state. This is something that should not be happening in Ohio,” Becker said.
Detransitioners and parents in favor of SAFE argued that children younger than 18 are unable to make informed decisions on gender affirming care and cannot conceptualize the long-term effects of hormone treatments, puberty blockers, or in extreme cases, gender-affirming surgery.
“The parental authority we have (in) having children is to guide them and keep them safe,” testified Ronli Brown, the mother of a trans-identifying kid who came out years ago at 14. “At 15, 16, 17, these kids don’t have any idea what’s going to happen when they’re 26 — they can’t see that far into the future.”
The Ohio Children’s Hospitals Association told lawmakers that it does not provide gender-affirming surgeries and would support a blanket ban on gender-affirming surgeries for minors. Association representatives said that its practices for prescribing hormones or puberty blockers were safe, relatively uncommon and in no need of government interference.
The SAFE Act’s House approval came a day after a federal judge batted down the nation’s first ban on gender-affirming care in Arkansas on the grounds that such legislation violates the U.S. Constitution. It is not yet clear how the Republican-dominated Ohio Senate will proceed with the legislation.
Save Women’s Sports Act
Rolled into House Bill 68 was the Save Women’s Sports Act, originally proposed by local Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum. The measure proposes to ban transgender girls from competing in girls sports at K-12 and collegiate levels.
Originally House Bill 6, the measure was seen to have broader support within the House GOP, though it drew similar levels of scorn from LGBTQ advocates. Powell argued that the legislation is necessary to conserve a fair playing field within women’s sports programs — an argument that has surfaced in dozens of legislatures across the country.
Bill opponents, including high-profile women athletes, argued that transgender bans like the Save Women’s Sports Act does little to improve the women’s sports landscape.
“Despite being called the ‘Save Women’s Sports Act,’ HB 6 does not consider any of the actual challenges to women and girls in sport,” testified Lori Lindsay, a former midfielder for the US Women’s National Team. “I ask you — what have you done to protect young women and girls from sexual assault and harassment in sport? What have you done to ensure all institutions in Ohio are compliant with Title IX? What have you done to promote equal pay for women athletes? How have you fought for increased opportunities and resources for young women and girls in sport, especially young women and girls of color? This bill, like so many others across the country, is seeking to solve a problem that simply doesn’t exist.”
Powell argued that the current case-by-case transgender athlete policy used by the Ohio High School Athletic Association is not enough. The group, tasked with running sports programs that reach every district in the state, said only 17 transgender girls have competed in girls sports since 2015-16.
House Bill 8: Parents’ Bill of Rights
The House also approved House Bill 8, or, the Parents’ Bill of Rights. The bill provides that parents have a right to be involved in their child’s education and requires public schools to notify parents about any changes to their child’s mental, emotional or physical well-being, among other things.
Critics warn that the bill could require schools to forcibly “out” LGBTQ+ students that haven’t come out at home. Rep. Sara Carruthers, a Hamilton Republican behind the bill, said forced outing was never the bill’s intention. She is open to the language being modified by the Senate.
Carruthers told the Dayton Daily News that her focus was on getting parents more involved in their child’s education and noted that engaging parents in their child’s education would help dispel the notion that children are being “indoctrinated” in public schools. According to Carruthers, HB8′s mandatory reporting provision was intended to address children who might be a danger to themselves or others, not specifically the LGBTQ+ student population.
“It has nothing to do with LGBTQ+; It never did, it shouldn’t,” Carruthers said.
The bill is opposed by education and transgender ally groups who claim that the bill would be used against LGBTQ+ students, regardless of the bill’s original intention. One of those opponents was Butler County’s Talawanda School District. District leaders argued that HB8 was unnecessary and raised concerns about the reporting mandate.
“Requiring schools to report ‘changes to a student’ mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being’ sounds like the legislature would be requiring schools to ‘out’ LGBTQ+ students to their families,” the district wrote in its testimony. “Sharing this information without student consent is potentially traumatic for the student and can even be dangerous to their mental and physical health.”
TransOhio, a statewide advocate for transgender Ohioans, noted that HB8 differed from Ohio’s previous attempts to force outings. The group said that, while the bill lacks specific provisions on transgender students, the broader language would have a similar effect.
The bill was approved 65-29, largely along party lines. It, too, will move on to the Senate for further consideration.
Carruthers said, despite the rhetoric characterizing her bill as anti-LGBTQ+, she finds her bill to be at odds with Click’s SAFE Act — a bill she voted for based on the merits of the Save Women’s Sports Act. Carruthers told the Dayton Daily News that if SAFE remained a standalone bill, she would have opposed it.
“It seems, for all intents and purposes to me, to go against the Parents’ Bill of Rights,” Carruthers said. “Are parents in charge? Or are parents not in charge? Because, if the parents are in charge, then they should be in charge of their child’s health care, too. And I’m fighting to put parents in charge of their children.”
Rep. Andrea White, R-Kettering, was the sole Republican to vote against the SAFE Act when it was in committee, but she ultimately voted for the bill on the House floor.
The move to combine the bills was characterized by House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, as a logistical move for “similar but different” legislation. House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said she was disappointed to see the bills combined.
“I strongly opposed both of those bills but was very not happy when I learned that they would be combined,” Russo said. “Again, I think that both of these bills are attacking a specific group of individuals, specifically our trans youth and the families who support them.”