A Texas rule forces students to choose between sports and being themselves.
Mack Beggs is just a 17-year-old boy who loves wrestling.
Sometimes, rules have unintended consequences. 17-year-old Texas wrestler Mack Beggs is dealing with one of them.
In February 2016, Texas school superintendents voted on a University Interscholastic League rule to require that student athletes compete as the gender listed on their birth certificates. The vote, which passed with 95% support, was intended to restrict transgender athletes from participating as their identified gender.
Just over a year later, Beggs, a transgender boy from Trinity High School in Euless, Texas, won the state championship in wrestling — in the girls' division.
Those new rules prohibited Beggs from competing against other boys — as he wanted to — putting him in the awkward position of having to quit wrestling or compete in the girls division.
"Wrestling is my life," wrote Beggs on his Facebook page. Some parents argued that taking testosterone gives Beggs an advantage over the girls he's wrestling against — and they'd probably be right, which is why the NCAA and International Olympic Committee both have policies outlining under what circumstances transgender athletes can compete against athletes of the same gender and when they should have to compete against athletes of the gender they were assigned at birth. The Texas UIL policy, however, eliminates a lot of important nuance.
The Texas school superintendents knew that this might happen when they voted in 2016.
Chris Mosier, a three-time member of the U.S. National Team in duathlon and triathlon, tried to warn the Texas superintendents ahead of the 2016 vote, calling the policy a "a barrier to inclusion." As it turns out, he was right.
"No athlete should have to choose between being an athlete and being their authentic self," says Mosier. "Transgender youth should have the same opportunities to compete in athletics as their cisgender peers. Mack is an athlete who just wants to compete in the sport he loves, and this is the only option Texas UIL gave him to continue to compete."
"For all young people," Mosier says, "participation in sports is recognized as an important aspect of developing positive self-esteem and an understanding of leadership, teamwork, communication skills, goal setting, determination, and a host of other positive values. It creates a connection to community and a sense of belonging. All students, including transgender students, should have the opportunity to participate in sport."
There are some really simple things anyone can do to create a welcoming and inclusive space for transgender student athletes.
Whether you're a fellow student, parent, coach, teacher, or community member, one of the most basic things you can do to make trans students feel welcome is by affirming their identity. Using their correct name and pronouns is a great start.
The second thing that needs to happen is for administrators to shift from implementing exclusionary rules that create barriers for trans athletes and look to adopt policies that integrate trans students into school athletics. Mosier's website links to some helpful policy documents and guides that help debunk some of harmful myths about trans athletes.
Policies vary wildly by state, which is why we need national guidance on policy for trans athletes — one that doesn't exclude anyone.
"There are transgender students in the state of Texas right now who are competing with the gender with which they identify because they changed their birth certificate," says Mosier. "But transgender students shouldn't have to jump through legal hoops in order to have an experience similar to their peers."
Gavin Grimm's upcoming Supreme Court case about how trans students fit into Title IX protections might provide that that clarity, but until then, it's on us to advocate on behalf of trans student athletes who just want to play sports like other kids.
As far as Beggs' wrestling future is concerned, there's a lot to be determined between now and the start of next season.
Jamey Harrison, the deputy director of the state UIL, the organization behind the birth certificate policy, told The Associated Press that "given the overwhelming support for that rule, I don't expect it to change anytime soon."
If it's overwhelming support that's keeping the discriminatory rule in place, don't forget what you can do to show that you don't stand by those views: (1) Use correct names and pronouns, (2) let your school know you want trans-inclusive athletic policies, and (3) get involved with organizations like You Can Play.