The Texas Law That Could Disqualify Trans Athletes From Competing

The SB 2095 law seeks to justify barring transgender athletes from high school sports “if the league determines that the safety of competing students or the fairness of a particular competition” is substantially affected by the student’s steroid use.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Transgender wrestler Mack Beggs doesn’t want to compete in the girls’ category.

But a Texas high school athletics policy requires him to compete based on the gender listed on his birth certificate.

And now, Texas could pass a law allowing his league to bar him from competing at all.

SB 2095, which passed the Texas state senate by a vote of 22-8 on Wednesday and is now headed to the House of Representatives, does not once use the word “transgender.” What it does say, however, is that the University Interscholastic League, the Texas state-level high school athletics organization, can “declare a student ineligible for competition on the basis of steroid use” even if that student is taking a steroid for a “valid medical purpose.”

Of particular note here is the fact that testosterone treatment for young transgender men like the 17-year-old Beggs could be seen as a basis for disqualification even though cross-sex hormone therapy for transgender people is supported by major medical associations.

SB 2095 would, in effect, justify barring transgender athletes from high school sports “if the league determines that the safety of competing students or the fairness of a particular competition has been or will be substantially affected by the student’s steroid use.”

It was filed by Republican state senator Bob Hall less than a month after Beggs won the girls’ 100-pound category in a state wrestling tournament, fueling litigation and drawing national media attention to the fact that Texas policy required him to compete against girls even as he took testosterone as part of his transition.

“SB 2095 is terrible,” Hudson Taylor, executive director of the LGBT advocacy organization Athlete Ally, told The Daily Beast. “It is a veiled attempt to exclude transgender athletes from participating in sports [that’s] been disguised under the auspices of fair play and reducing steroid use.”

The office of Senator Hall did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment but in public debate over the bill, as the Texas Tribune reported, Hall said that SB 2095 is “not addressing who plays on what sports” but rather “addressing individuals who … are taking steroids” and allowing the UIL to “protect the other students who are playing” from “unsafe situations.”

Taylor, however, points to a 2015 Associated Press report on the Texas steroids testing program for public high schools, which noted that out of 2,633 students tested by the UIL during the 2013-2014 school year, only two were caught.

“It’s a non-issue,” he said. “Really the only intent behind this is giving the UIL the intent to hurt trans athletes.”

The UIL did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the legislation. After Beggs won his category in the February tournament, the league published a statement and FAQ on their website explaining that their official rules determine gender by birth certificate and make an exception for steroid use if it is “prescribed by a medical practitioner for a valid medical purpose.”

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The FAQ also made it clear that UIL will “recognize” any changes made to an athlete’s birth certificate. However, in the state of Texas, the gender marker on a birth certificate can only be changed under court order. And Texas, like most states, requires sex reassignment surgery to change the gender on a birth certificate. The World Professional Association of Transgender Health currently does not recommend that procedure until the “legal age of majority.”

Suffice it to say, it would be very challenging for a transgender teenager like Beggs to receive the necessary documentation to be able to compete with other students of the same gender under a birth certificate-based policy.

If SB 2095—part of a recent flurry of proposed anti-LGBT legislation in Texas—becomes law, it could put renewed pressure on the UIL birth certificate policy, which can only be reversed by the league’s legislative council in a vote. Beggs has been competing in the girls’ category because, as he told CNN, “I would rather have a chance to compete than not compete at all.”

But if SB 2095 goes into effect and the UIL birth certificate policy remains unchanged, it could create a scenario in which some transgender athletes—especially transgender boys who take medically-approved testosterone as part of a gender transition—cannot compete at all.

“If they don’t change the policy that requires you to compete according to your birth certificate and they think that Mack has a competitive advantage, then the next step is Mack can no longer play sports in Texas,” said Taylor.

There is one possible solution to this whole kerfuffle, longtime advocates for transgender athletes say: allow boys to compete against boys and girls to compete against girls.

By Athlete Ally’s count, 16 states and Washington D.C. have inclusive policies at the K-12 level. And Helen Carroll, co-author of the NCAA’s 2011 guidelines for transgender athletes, has previously told The Daily Beast that there have been no major issues in these states thus far, saying that more or less “everybody’s happy.”

The 2010 “On the Team” report Carroll co-authored in her capacity as Sports Project Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights also recommends that athletic associations only take hormones into consideration at the college level—not in K-12 where athletes are “still developing physically” and exhibit “a significantly broader range of variation in size, strength, and skill.”

But it takes a case like Beggs, Taylor has found, to draw public attention to this issue. Anti-transgender laws and policies have tended to focus on the unsubstantiated fear of increased sexual assault risk if transgender women are allowed into women’s spaces, with less consideration given to how those same laws and policies would effectively force transgender men to use women’s restrooms, or require transgender boys like Beggs to wrestle against girls.

Attention to Beggs’ case has apparently spawned a new form of anti-transgender backlash, Taylor says—a law that would specifically affect transgender boys, even though they are not specifically named in the text of the bill.

“It’s a unique circumstance and I haven’t seen other bills similarly trying to restrict access for trans athletes,” said Taylor.

Mack Beggs “would rather have a chance to compete than not compete at all.”

Soon, he may not get to make that choice.