Teen Transgender Wrestler — A Reluctant Symbol Of A Nation Divided

Feb 26, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's head to Texas now where a transgender teenager named Mack Beggs has won a wrestling championship he didn't really want to win. That's because he's being forced to wrestle girls when he identifies as a boy. Now, this comes just days after the White House rolled back Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students in public schools, making Mack Beggs a reluctant symbol of a nation divided on transgender student rights.

We're joined now by Asa Merritt, a reporter in West Texas, who's going to tell us more about it. Hi, Asa. Thanks so much for joining us.

ASA MERRITT, BYLINE: Absolutely a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So first of all, tell us about Mack Beggs. Who is he? I mean, how long has he been wrestling? And when did he start his transition?

MERRITT: Mack Beggs is the recent champion of the state of Texas for wrestling. He started transitioning a year and a half ago. He started taking testosterone, and that has sparked the interest around him.

MARTIN: So what is the issue here?

MERRITT: The issue is that he wants to compete against boys, and the state of Texas, the school rules, prevent that. One is that boys can't compete against girls, and the second thing is that you have to compete as the gender that is on your birth certificate.

MARTIN: How has he responded to all of the interest in his situation?

MERRITT: You know, from what I can tell, he's responded in one way as there's an awareness of himself as a center of attention. At the same time, he's a wrestler. I think as much as anything in this situation he wants to wrestle. He wants to wrestle against boys. And at the end of the day, that's what his priority was. This is what he said right after the win.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MACK BEGGS: I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for my teammates. That's honestly what the spotlight should have been on is my teammates.

MARTIN: So what was the reaction to his win?

MERRITT: Everyone had a strong reaction. It was polar. There were people cheering, you know, enormously. You know, this is a state championship, so that's par for the course. You had family, friends, teammates. But you also had sort of a - you could feel a deeper momentum around his victory. There were transfolks in the crowd who were cheering him on. But at the same time, equally loud, were boos. You had boos from other athletes, from other parents.

There was jeering and jawing. And people said things like, you know, he doesn't belong there. He should be on a different mat. It was really intense. You heard both sides very vocally. One person I spoke to specifically about this is an activist in the LGBT community. His name's Lou Weaver, and he's the transcoordinator for Equality Texas. This is what he had to say about it.

LOU WEAVER: So often the story about transfolks is that they're alone, that they're not going to make it. Today, in our little corner of the world, something really amazing is happening.

MARTIN: Tell me about some of the people who felt that Mack should not have been competing at that particular tournament. What was their concern?

MERRITT: A major concern was simply that it was unfair, that you had this athlete, who had been taking testosterone, what is considered a performance-enhancing drug. So Beggs is allowed to take it because it's for a medical reason. But a lot of parents and athletes thought it was unfair that he was competing against girls.

MARTIN: Given that a lot of people have criticisms of the status quo, is there any talk about revisiting the rules, given that many of the participants don't seem to feel that the current rules serve anybody's interests?

MERRITT: That question was asked a lot. It was specifically asked to a spokesperson from the organization that governs school athletics in Texas. His position, however, was that this rule will not be revisited anytime soon.

MARTIN: What about for Mack? What's next for him?

MERRITT: He didn't speak to anyone during the event. He was very focused on the match, and his whole team and family supported that effort. So he definitely avoided any kind of media presence over the weekend. He's likely to lay low for a little while until some of the huge press dies down. He's only a junior, so he has a year of high school wrestling ahead of him. So we'll see what happens next year.

MARTIN: That's Asa Merritt. Asa, thanks so much for joining us.

MERRITT: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.