The Texas state wrestling championships aren't usually national news. But they made headlines this weekend when a 17-year-old transgender boy — barred by state rules from competing in the boys' league — won his weight class, against girls.
Mack Beggs, the teenage boy in question, hasn't sought the spotlight. By all accounts he just wants to wrestle.
But media attention found him anyway. In part, that's because some parents of female wrestlers have vocally objected to the fact that Beggs, who has been taking testosterone as part of his gender transition, is wrestling girls. One parent even filed a lawsuit against the league that organizes public school sports. The controversy has been heightened because his victory arrived on the heels of President Trump's decision to rescind Obama administration guidelines on trans students' rights in school. Asa Merritt, a reporter in West Texas, spoke to NPR's Michel Martin about the controversy, and also covered the championship for our Newscast division.
He says Beggs began transitioning about a year and a half ago.
"He wants to compete against boys," Merritt says. But under Texas rules, boys can't compete against girls, and students must compete as the gender marked on their birth certificate. That meant if Beggs wanted to wrestle, he had to do it in the girls' league.
Which he did, with great success — he had an undefeated season. His triumphs led to impassioned feelings in the Berry Center, just outside of Houston, on Saturday.
Merritt says that every time Beggs won a match in his 110-pound weight class, the audience "erupted in both boos and cheers."
Family, friends, teammates and trans supporters celebrated Beggs' wins. But at the same time, "there was jeering and jawing," Merritt told Michel Martin. "And people said things like, you know, 'He doesn't belong there. He should be on a different mat.' It was really intense."
Beggs "didn't speak to anyone during the event," Merritt says. "He definitely avoided any kind of media presence."
When he did speak publicly, after the championship was over, Beggs didn't highlight the rules, the lawsuit or the controversy.
"I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for my teammates," the wrestler said. "That's honestly what the spotlight should have been on, is my teammates. ... we trained hard every single day."
Texas is considering legislation similar to North Carolina's controversial HB2, that would require trans people in public schools and other government buildings to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate. Powerful business interests are opposed to the bill, NPR's Wade Goodwyn has reported, but it's a priority of the state's lieutenant governor.
As for the sports requirement that kept Beggs competing with girls, despite criticism from other parents, officials "don't envision a change," The Associated Press reports.
"Ninety-five percent of the school superintendents in Texas voted for the rule as it was proposed, which was to use birth certificates," Jamey Harrison, the deputy director of Texas' University Interscholastic League, told the AP. "So any rule can be reconsidered, but ... given the overwhelming support for that rule, I don't expect it to change anytime soon." Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.