On Friday, Mack Beggs, an undefeated high school wrestler from Texas, will compete at the girls’ state tournament in suburban Houston.
But unlike the rest of the teen’s female competitors, Beggs, 17, is a boy.
For more than a year, the teen, who was born a girl, has been transitioning from female to male with the help of testosterone therapy.
Beggs’s participation — and dominance — in the girls’ league has spurred consternation among some in the Dallas region, including a lawsuit filed by an unhappy parent, who argued that if Beggs identifies as a boy he should have to wrestle other boys.
And Beggs would, his family told the Dallas Morning News, if he could, but the rules won’t allow it.
That’s because last year, some 95 percent of Texas superintendents voted in favor of an amendment to the constitution of the University Interscholastic League, the state’s governing body for public school athletics, that requires student athletes to compete as the gender listed on their birth certificate, the Dallas Morning News reported at the time.
When the referendum ballot was approved (586-32, with 2 non-responses), critics called it “horrible policy” that would discriminate against transgender athletes who were unable to afford the complicated maneuvering that goes into legally changing one’s birth certificate through the state.
Now, as word of Beggs’s case has gained increased publicity, experts say the policy’s likely intention — to keep transgender female athletes transitioning from male to female from having a hormonal leg up on competitors — is backfiring.
Some of Beggs’s female competitors forfeited their matches in the regional meet, reported the Associated Press, out of apparent fear of injury because the 17-year-old is taking testosterone that could create a physical disadvantage.
That was the main argument laid out in a lawsuit filed in early February against the UIL by Jim Baudhuin, a local attorney and wrestling parent at a competing high school who sought to have Beggs barred from competing against girls at the state tournament and against other boys as long as he is taking testosterone, reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
But Texas Education Code and UIL rules allow the use of steroids if “dispensed, prescribed, delivered and administered by a medical practitioner for a valid medical purpose,” reported the AP. Nancy Beggs, the teen’s grandmother and legal guardian, has said that the UIL reviewed Mack Beggs’s medical records and approved him for competition before the last two seasons.
After two wrestlers forfeited their matches at the regional competition last weekend, Nancy Beggs told the Morning News those actions were about “bias, hatred and ignorance,” and that her grandson and at least one of the other wrestlers “know each other and they are not happy about this.”
Beggs wrestles in the 110 pound class, where his record is 52-0.
It was the parents and coaches, Mack Beggs wrote on social media, that were making waves, not the students.
“The thing is, we want to wrestle each other. I feel so sick and disgusted by the discrimination not by the kids, the PARENTS AND COACHES,” the teen wrote on Facebook. “These kids don’t care who you put in front of them to wrestle. We just want to WRESTLE. THEY are taking that away from me and from the people I’m competing with.”
Since then, Baudhuin (whose daughter is friends with Beggs, wrestles in a different weight class and disapproved of his lawsuit) has altered his position on the conflict.
He told the AP that he is amending his lawsuit to ask the UIL to make its gender policies mirror that of the NCAA, which allows athletes transitioning from female to male and taking testosterone to compete on men’s teams but not women’s teams.
“Mack is a great kid, hard-working, great kid,” Baudhuin told the AP. “So this is not a personal. This is not a hatred issue. We just don’t think it’s fair that Mack should wrestle, either be allowed or should be required to wrestle against girls.”
Baudhuin will not seek a last-minute injunction before the state tournament, he told the AP, but plans to pursue the altered lawsuit once the wrestling season is over, not just in light of Beggs’s case, but because he sees the potential for others to crop up.
“What if next year it’s a swimmer and the year after that it’s somebody who’s running track or somebody playing basketball or whatever?” he told the AP. “This isn’t the one and only time that there’s going to be a transgender athlete involved.”
According to TransAthlete, an advocacy organization for transgender athletes, Texas is one of seven states that it considers to have “discriminatory” policies for trans student athletes by requiring a birth certificate, hormone therapy documentation or proof of gender-reassignment surgery. Other state policies operate on a case-by-case basis or have no limitations, including Florida and California.
Beggs’s story hit the national stage the same week President Trump decided to roll back Obama-era directives protecting transgender students in public schools, outraging LGBT advocates.
Joanna Harper, an adviser to the International Olympic Committee, transgender elite runner and medical physicist in Oregon, told the Star-Telegram that she suspects the UIL’s rule is having the “exact opposite effect of what they had desired.”
“Dealing with transgender adolescent athletes is probably the most difficult time frame to make a ruling. In the NCAA, there would be no question that Mack would be required to compete against men, but that’s not an option for him because of the UIL rule,” Harper told the Star-Telegram. “I think the UIL rule is misguided, shortsighted and I actually find a wonderful irony in it.”
The UIL released a statement to the Star-Telegram about the controversy, described by the newspaper as “generic”:
“To compete at this year’s wrestling state tournament all students are subject to UIL rules and state law. This helps ensure a fair competition to the more than 400 students participating. We will continue to work with member schools to best meet the needs of all students.”