A crosswalk decorated for pride month at Heights High School in Cleveland Heights. Members from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board have voiced their opposition to anti-trans policies in Ohio.
A crosswalk decorated for pride month at Heights High School in Cleveland Heights. Members from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board have voiced their opposition to anti-trans policies in Ohio. Credit: Paul Rochford / Signal Cleveland

Bradie Anderson is excited to be finished with her 8th grade year, and she’s already started setting goals for high school: joining the debate team, running for student council president, and playing on the varsity soccer team.

But anti-transgender legislation quickly making its way through the Ohio legislature could interfere with her plans. Anderson may not be able to participate in her favorite sport. One she has played since she was three years old. 

Even with supportive teammates, coaches, and school district leaders in Anderson’s hometown of Mentor, transgender girls and women could be stripped of their rights to compete in sports from kindergarten through college if Ohio legislators pass HB 6, the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” 

With the bill still awaiting a vote, Anderson said she would be able to try out for the Mentor High School team. She says she could participate in competitions without issue.

If HB 6 passes, that would change. Ohio would join 21 other states–including neighboring Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia—that have passed anti-trans sports bans. The bill has been approved by several Ohio House committees and awaits a final vote there before being sent to the Senate.

Statewide policies allowing trans students to participate in sports already exist

Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) policy currently poses two requirements for transgender girls playing on a girls’ team. They must either have completed a minimum of one year of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or demonstrate that “she does not possess physical…or psychological advantages over genetic females of the same age group.”

A statement from the Republican members of the Ohio House said HB 6 “ensures that biological males cannot compete in female-only sports in Ohio.” This means a transgender female athlete who meets the OHSAA requirements could not compete in school sports.

Anderson said in a written statement to Ohio lawmakers in April that OHSAA rules already present enough hurdles for young trans athletes.

“As if that isn’t stressful enough,” she said, “now the government wants to get involved in me playing?”

Bradie Anderson hopes to play soccer on Mentor High School's team next year, but HB 6 would block her from participating.
Bradie Anderson hopes to play soccer on Mentor High School’s team next year, but HB 6 would block her from participating. Credit: Annie Anderson

An “indistinguishable percentage” of athletes

Rep. Jena Powell (R-80) introduced the bill in March 2023. She said the legislation is designed to to prevent “girls’ dreams of being a gold medal athlete to be crushed by biological males stealing their opportunities.”

But for the few transgender students participating, there haven’t been issues. 

Doug Ute, executive director of OHSAA sent a letter to lawmakers in April. He said since 2015, the association hasn’t received any complaints about transgender female athletes. Ute said 17 transgender female athletes who have competed in Ohio high school sports over the past eight years.

Ute said these 17 athletes represent an “indistinguishable percentage” of the 350,000+ student athletes who compete each year.

“We believe our policy has been very effective in addressing their participation and we are committed to continuing to protect the integrity of the organization and its sports programs through policies that are fair and equitable,” he said in his statement.

Asked about how her current teammates feel, Anderson told Signal Cleveland, “Nobody really cares.” Anderson’s mother, Annie, said her daughter experienced bullying in middle school, but that only started after some parents spoke at school board meetings about the issue of transgender students participating in sports. 

Trans kids in Greater Cleveland find support in their schools

Greater Cleveland school staff and administrators are advocating for transgender students, making their voices heard in Columbus.

School board members from several Cleveland suburbs submitted testimony to state legislators in opposition to the bill.

House Bill 6 “is both deeply inequitable and goes against the values that we stand for in Shaker Heights,” according to a letter from the Shaker Heights Board of Education.

Malia Lewis, a member of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board, told legislators in April. She said banning transgender girls, especially those in adolescence, from playing sports is “just plain mean.”

“Why would you deliberately deny the benefits of participating in sports to children who could use those benefits the most?” she asked in her statement.

Lewis wrote that her district recently worked with OHSAA to ensure that one of their transgender students could play sports at Heights High. 

“The OHSAA policy is working,” she said. “There is no reason for House Bill 6 to impose additional draconian rules upon children in K-12 sports. This legislation is unnecessary and cruel.”

From 8th grader to activist

Anderson, along with her sister, Alison, and her mother, has also raised her voice to stand up for transgender Ohioans. She has addressed legislators at hearings, attended rallies, and even appeared on TV. 

As a shy 8th grader, public speaking was nerve-wracking for Anderson. But it’s worth it, she said.

“I’ve wanted to do it because these bills are crucial and I don’t see a lot of trans people speaking out, especially young trans people,” she said. “I feel like every kid in Ohio should be treated the same no matter what their gender is.”

She told Signal Cleveland she’s also standing up for herself.

“I really want to play on the girls’ soccer team, and if [the bill] passes, then I’m going to have to go on the guys’ team. First of all, I don’t think that would be fair, and second of all, I’d probably get bullied,” she said. “And I think I’d have to go in the guys’ locker room too, which is just also weird.”

More threats ahead

In addition to HB 6, there are other bills making their way through the Ohio statehouse that target LGBTQ+ youth. HB 8, “The Parent Bill of Rights,” would require teachers and school staff to out LGBTQ+ students to their parents. Teachers and counselors would be required to share any information a student tells them about their sexuality. Even in a case when a student hasn’t told their parent.

HB 68 would outlaw gender affirming healthcare. HB 183 would require trans students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that don’t align with their identities. Anderson’s mother said if HB 68, which directly threatens her daughter’s access to healthcare, were to pass, her family would need to leave the state.

She encouraged other parents of trans students to support their kids by speaking out against these bills. 

“Parents, please support your kids because that’s what really matters,” she said. “Once you see other parents supporting [their kids], it’s much easier to get involved in groups and make your voices heard.” she said.

UPDATE 6/16/23: On Wednesday, June 14, the Ohio House Public Health Policy Committee approved a new substitute version of SB 68 that now includes HB 6. Having passed through the committee, the new SB 68 will go before the full House of Representatives for a vote.

K-12 Education Reporter (he/him)
Paul, a former City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps member based in a charter school, covered K-12 education for Signal Cleveland until August, 2023. Paul joined us from Cleveland Documenters, where he focused on creating infographics and civic tech to make public information more accessible. Paul is also a musician, photographer and graphic designer.