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Gov. Mike DeWine criticizes Ohio House bill that would ban transgender athletes from playing girls’ sports

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 6/27/2021 Andrew J. Tobias, cleveland.com
Mike DeWine holding a sign: Gov. Mike DeWine, in suburban Columbus, announced Friday that Ohio high-school athletes must be vaccinated against coronavirus in order to play contact sports this fall. © Jeremy Pelzer Gov. Mike DeWine, in suburban Columbus, announced Friday that Ohio high-school athletes must be vaccinated against coronavirus in order to play contact sports this fall.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine opposes an Ohio House bill that would ban transgender student athletes in Ohio from participating in girls’ sports, the Republican said Friday.

“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 in a brief written statement.

DeWine was commenting on Senate Bill 187, a bill House Republicans passed on Thursday during the busy final days before the legislature breaks for Summer recess. House Republicans amended SB187, a noncontroversial bill that would allow college athletes to profit off their names and likenesses, to add the transgender sports language, which was in a standalone bill the House had been considering since February 2020. The amendment mostly passed along party lines, although seven Republicans joined Democrats in voting ‘no.’

Dan Tierney, a DeWine spokesman, declined to say whether the governor might veto a bill banning transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports if one were presented to him.

“It’s premature to comment since it’s still working through the legislative process,” Tierney said.

But, Tierney said, “All these entities have governing bodies that have said they prefer to handle the issue themselves, and the governor feels the best way to handle this issue is not through the government, but to allow these entities to tailor policies that best fit their athletes and member institutions.”

Senate Republicans have criticized the House for putting the transgender sports language in the NCAA likeness bill, in part because the move complicates their hopes to pass the NCAA bill by July 1. Ohio State University is pushing for the law to be changed by then so it can compete with other states that have passed similar bills in recruiting top student athletes.

In response, the Senate on Thursday night amended a low-profile bill changing rules for state military IDs to include the NCAA likeness language, sending the measure to the House for consideration. The Senate has its own version of a transgender sports bill, although it has yet to receive a committee hearing.

Any state law change requires approval from both the House and Senate and, unless it gets enough votes for a veto override, a signature from the governor.

If the transgender sports bill were to become law, Ohio would join Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia as among the states that have enacted similar bans in recent months. A Republican governor in Arkansas vetoed the bill, but lawmakers overrode him, while a Democratic governor in Louisiana vetoed one there. A federal judge temporarily blocked the Idaho measure from taking effect last year, a decision that’s currently before a federal appeals court.

The issue of banning transgender children from competing in girls’ sports has emerged as a flashpoint for conservatives in the broader national culture war over traditional values, gender and identity, with more than 20 states considering similar bans. By taking a stand on the issue, DeWine, who is up for re-election next year, could potentially open himself to attack from Republican primary challengers, including former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, who are positioning themselves to DeWine’s political right.

Supporters of the legislation have said that transgender girls born biologically male have an unfair advantage over other girls.

Opponents, including Democrats, say the bill is discriminatory against transgender children, already a vulnerable group, and said it seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Bill sponsors couldn’t name any specific instance of a transgender girl setting a record or winning a competition in Ohio, something they have said their bill is meant to prevent.

The OHSAA has a transgender policy that states transgender girls can participate on a girls’ sports team if they have either completed a year of hormone treatment related to their transition or have demonstrated through sound medical evidence that they don’t possess physical or physiological advantages over genetic females — which include bone structure, muscle mass, testosterone and hormonal advantages.

Although he generally is viewed as socially conservative, and as state attorney general supported a state ban on same-sex marriage, DeWine has a limited recent record of supporting LGBT issues. Shortly after he became governor in January 2019, he issued an executive order barring discrimination in state government on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, among other protected categories including age, race and religion.

And his current state budget plan that’s under review by lawmakers updated state language to more clearly state that same-sex couples can adopt children in Ohio — something that’s permitted anyway — although Republican lawmakers ended up removing the language.

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