Texas bill could deny transgender wrestler title defense

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - When transgender wrestler Mack Beggs won a girls' state championship, his victory drew jeers and complaints that his steroid therapy treatment had given him an unfair advantage against girls who risked injury just by getting on the mat with him.

Now Texas lawmakers are pushing a bill that could ultimately deny Beggs, a Dallas-area junior, a chance to defend his title next year.

The proposal working its way through the Legislature would require transgender students like Beggs to turn over their medical information to the University Interscholastic League, the state's governing body for public high school sports. The UIL would be allowed to disqualify an athlete undergoing hormone therapy if "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."

Beggs' case drew national attention in February when he won the state championship in Class 6A, the classification for the state's largest schools. Before he got that far, the father of a girl who had wrestled against Beggs filed a lawsuit trying to get him disqualified. His title-winning match earned him a bloody nose on the mat and boos from a crowd upset by his victory . He has a 56-0 record and wants to wrestle next season in his senior year.

The UIL prohibits steroids use, but Texas has a "safe harbor" provision that allows transgender students undergoing hormone therapy treatments under the direction of a doctor to compete. Texas also requires transgender athletes to compete in the gender listed on their birth certificate. For Beggs, that meant he had to wrestle against girls against his wishes, and the proposed bill would not change that rule.

Beggs family spokesman Alan Baxter said the family has a good relationship with the UIL and questioned why lawmakers are pursuing the change.

"I would hope they are not singling him out," Baxter said, noting that a now-defunded UIL program that tested more than 63,000 athletes caught just a handful of cheaters before it was scuttled in 2015. "If politicians are truly concerned with safety, they should test everyone."

Under NCAA rules, athletes transitioning from female to male are allowed to compete on men's teams while taking testosterone, but can't compete on women's teams.

USA Wrestling in March adopted a rule that would require Beggs to wrestle as a male in their events. Beggs planned to compete in USA Wrestling events this spring, but he would return to the girls' side of competition in Texas if the rules don't change. Texas is one of seven states that require high school students to provide a birth certificate, proof of gender-reassignment surgery or documentation of hormone therapy, according to TransAthlete.com.

UIL officials say killing the testing program limited their ability to police steroid use in competition. Beggs' case is one they simply hadn't imagined 10 years ago, said Leo Barnes, the UIL's director of policy and compliance.

"The fairness and safety and competition issue that has been raised is one we think we need to have the authority to look at," Barnes told lawmakers in a Senate hearing on the bill last month.

State Sen. Bob Hall, a Republican from Edgewood, said his bill isn't aimed at disqualifying transgender students, but to give the UIL a tool in combating steroid use.

"This is for fairness and safety of the students," said Hall, who filed the bill two weeks after Beggs won his state title.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat, was skeptical of that explanation.

"Isn't the real intent of your bill to ban students who are undergoing steroid or other hormone treatment?" she asked. "On its face it seems to have everything to do with (Beggs)."

The bill has passed the Senate and now goes to the House for consideration before the Legislature adjourns May 29.