Defenders of LGBTQ rights contend new legislation in Ohio is part of a broader effort across the country to undermine equality. The bill would exclude transgender students from participating in sports that match their gender identity.
HB 527 would apply to all public schools and colleges, as well as private schools that are members of a state or national athletic association. Grant Stancliff, communications director with Equality Ohio, said similar legislation is being considered in at least four states.
"We're seeing is a sweep of bills across the country that are squarely aimed at transgender young people," Stancliff said. "In addition to this school athletics bill in Ohio, we also saw a bill which could potentially criminalize doctors, therapists and other medical professionals who treat trans kids."
Backers of the legislation - named the "Save School Sports for Women Act" - argue it would level the playing field for girls and women who might otherwise be forced to compete with biological males who are on an all-female team.
Ohio and two dozen other states currently have athletic inclusion policies that allow transgender youth athletes to compete alongside their peers. And Stancliff contends the bill would single out transgender students, who already face bullying and discrimination. He said just the debate itself will affect LGBTQ youth.
"One of the scariest and saddest parts is for LGBTQ children all throughout the state of Ohio, who are going to hear people debate their existence, who are going to hear people debate whether or not they're worthy to access all the same basic things that all of us take for granted," he said.
Meanwhile, Stancliff is hopeful about the future of the Ohio Fairness Act. Recent hearings were held on the measure in both chambers. It would add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to the laws that make discrimination illegal in Ohio.
This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest, and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.