During Pride month, we celebrated LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S. and how far the movement has come. And while Pride month may have ended, the work for equal rights is far from over. Many LGBTQ+ advocates are experiencing bittersweet feelings, especially those in the transgender community, as we see more and more policies introduced at the state level to preempt inclusive practices happening on the playing field. This reactionary preemption policymaking is rooted in discrimination. Instead of supporting communities that have taken steps to keep our kids healthy and safe, the state is looking to interfere with community decisions and make our communities less safe for our LGTBQ+ kids and families.
When states interfere with the regulations cities, counties or other governing bodies can set, it’s known as preemption, a legislative tactic that often stifles innovation and suppresses individual rights.
The last year has seen an unprecedented attack on trans and non-binary youth around the country, with more than 30 states introducing 110 anti-trans bills.
In Ohio, the General Assembly is trying to do just this – the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) has had guidelines allowing trans athletes to play since 2015 without a single complaint. These guidelines have worked and have never been challenged. But now two explicitly anti-transgender bills are moving through the legislature already, with more likely on the way by the end of the year. Even Ohio’s recent attack on diversity education in schools, HB327 and HB322, have anti-trans provisions that ban teaching about gender identity among other topics like race and sex.
Like many other states, the two anti-transgender bills known as “Save Women’s Sports Act” currently moving through the legislature are anti-trans sports bans. The bills (HB61 and SB132) affects all gender segregated sports and requires that college and high school athletes play on the team that aligns with the sex assigned at birth. The senate version of the bill enforces this by requiring anyone ‘accused’ of being transgender to undergo a medical examination, which may include genital checks, in order to verify their gender. As of today, eight other states have passed this legislation. This law would go against already existing OHSAA guidelines that support all kids through fair and inclusive participation in an environment where all athletes can thrive and develop to their full potential.
These harmful laws exist to target trans youth for living their truth and often contribute to worsening mental health outcomes for some of the most vulnerable children. According to The Trevor Project's National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health 2021, 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth. Sports can give youth an important social and physical outlet for self-exploration and provide a safe environment outside of the classroom. Stigmatizing trans youth on the playing field will contribute to further stigma in other parts of their lives.
This legislation rolls back existing standard medical care practices, local and community decisions, and put the opinions of anti-transgender politicians over the necessary medical care of Ohio’s youth. But most of all, they send a message that says that Ohio is an unsafe place to be yourself.
Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association, recently funded Equality Ohio to work on this issue as part of their efforts on preemption and to make sure each day is healthier for all kids.