June 20, 2024

The SAFE Act and what it means for trans youth in Ohio

Less than two weeks after Governor DeWine vetoed House Bill 68, the Ohio Senate voted 65-28 in favor of overriding the governor’s veto. The Saving Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act has been widely criticized by healthcare professionals and educators for unfairly targeting transgender-identifying youth. 

The bill specifically addresses two healthcare and education issues close to the trans community. The first of which prohibits people assigned male at birth from participating in women’s competition categories. 

The bill’s language explicitly states “no school, interscholastic conference or organization… shall knowingly permit individuals of the male sex to participate on athletic teams or in athletic competitions designated only for participants of the female sex”.

Thus, any persons who compete in athletics through organizations such as the Ohio High School Athletic Association would be mandated to participate in the category corresponding to the sex they were assigned at birth. 

Prior to the bill’s passage, the statehouse hosted former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines to speak on behalf of female athletes. Since competing against trans swimmer Lia Thomas in the 200 yard freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Championship, she has become an advocate for policies that bar trans women from women’s sports. 

Gaines testified in support of HB 68, during which she told Ohio Legislators that she felt “betrayed and belittled” when asked to participate in a photo-op with Thomas following the tie. Additionally, Gaines added she felt her “feelings did not matter” but “the feelings of a biological male” did. 

The other half of HB 68 aims to ban gender-affirming or gender-transitioning services for minors in the state of Ohio. Under the bill, any gender confirming surgeries, puberty-blocking drugs and hormone replacement therapies would be illegal to perform or prescribe for persons under 18 years old. 

The bill does list a few circumstantial exceptions, including people born with varying types of chromosomal intersex. However, it adds a requirement for mental health professionals to screen all persons presenting with a gender-related condition for ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety and “other mental health conditions.” 

This second part to the bill was heavily criticized by Ohio House Representative Anita Somani, who represents the 11th District which encompasses the Dublin-Hilliard area. Rep. Somani spoke on the House floor, sharing her anger that “there are legislators who do not trust science and the hundreds of experts who have testified on gender-affirming care.” 

Rep. Somani, and other doctors, have denounced the bill and questioned its necessity. Many healthcare professionals testified that no pediatric healthcare facility in the state of Ohio currently performs gender-confirming procedures for minors. 

The primary sponsor of the bill, Rep. Gary Click of Ohio’s 88th House District, described the override as a “win” for Ohioans. The override was also celebrated by House Speaker Stephens, who believes the bill is about “protecting children.”

It is unclear whether the bill will be challenged in the Ohio Supreme Court, but the bill is likely to receive challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union, who have avidly condemned the bill’s passage and override. 

Author

  • Josie Speakman

    Josie is a first-year Political Science major with a Spanish minor on a Pre-Law track. In her free time, she enjoys reading and watching movies.

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