Middle school athletes step out of shot put against transgender girl who just won court case

Just a couple of days after a transgender middle school student won an appeals court ruling to allow her to compete on the track team, several athletes from a rival team stepped into the shot put against her and then stepped back out, declining to participate.

The situation unfolded at the Harrison County Championships for middle schools on Thursday. OutKick, an outlet that covers sports from a conservative perspective, broke the story nationally with an article that included video of middle schoolers with their faces blurred stepping out of the shot put competition.

Riley Gaines

Riley Gaines, 24, a former collegiate swimmer who has been involved in gender issues surrounding sports, including in West Virginia, publicly commented on the middle school event, calling out the transgender athlete by name. Gaines hosts a podcast for OutKick, which is owned by Fox Corp. and founded by Clay Travis.

In a social media post that led off with fire alarm symbols, Gaines wrote, “FIVE middle school female athletes in West Virginia refuse to throw shot put against male, Becky Pepper-Jackson. This comes just 2 days after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the WV law that says you must compete in the category that matches your sex.”

She continued, “It’s a sad day when 13-14yr old girls have to be the adults in the room, but I couldn’t be more inspired by and proud of these girls.”

This past Tuesday, a three-judge panel ruled that West Virginia’s law forbidding the participation of transgender athletes on school sports teams violates the rights Becky Pepper-Jackson, the plaintiff in the case. The court ruling was split, 2-1.

“The question before us is whether the Act may lawfully be applied to prevent a 13-year-old transgender girl who takes puberty blocking medication and has publicly identified as a girl since the third grade from participating in her school’s cross country and track teams,” Judge Heytons wrote in the majority opinion. “We hold it cannot.”

The Harrison County middle school track championship was Thursday, just two days after the court ruling. Records show that Becky Pepper-Jackson won the shot put by a significant margin, three feet difference. She placed second in the discus, two feet behind the first place finisher from Lincoln Middle and three feet ahead of another Lincoln Middle competitor.

The records show that five Lincoln Middle shot put athletes are listed with no distance. Athletes from other county middle schools participated in the event. Bridgeport Middle swept the top three shot put positions with Becky Pepper-Jackson’s 32-foot effort achieving the top mark.

Becky Pepper-Jackson’s situation has been in the spotlight of the political race for West Virginia’s governor’s race recently, too. An advertisement released Wednesday for businessman Chris Miller features statements from two women citing concerns about a shared locker room. “The trans shouldn’t get more rights than what our kids have,” one of the women says.

Even as the sports eligibility case has been under consideration in federal appeals court, Pepper-Jackson has regularly participated in middle school track events.

Becky Pepper-Jackson

Becky Pepper-Jackson, according to filings in the court case, was born male but identified as a girl from a very young age. By third grade, she was living as a girl at home and told her mother and father she did not want to keep going to school dressed as a boy.

More recently, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and had been receiving puberty-delaying treatment for almost a year when West Virginia passed a bill affecting transgender athletes.

In 2021, West Virginia joined dozens of states placing restrictions on transgender athletes’ participation on sports teams.

House Bill 3293 defines male and female “based solely on the individual’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.” It says “any student aggrieved by a violation of this section may bring an action” against a county board of education or college “alleged to be responsible for the alleged violation” — intended to allow lawsuits over anyone contending a transgender athlete was gaining advantage in sports.

Lawyers for middle schooler Becky Pepper-Jackson — or B.P.J., as she is identified in court filings — challenged the law under Title IX policy and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

Early last year, U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia upheld West Virginia’s law. In February, 2023, the appeals court issued a stay of that ruling while the case was under review. The stay allowed Becky Pepper-Jackson to continue to compete.

In this week’s ruling, the appeals panel majority took note of the many steps Pepper-Jackson had taken in her identification as a girl, including the use of puberty-blocking medication. By doing so, her body has not gone through the effects of puberty associated with increased strength and speed, the panel concluded.

“Because B.P.J. has never felt the effects of increased levels of circulating testosterone, the fact that those who do benefit from increased strength and speed provides no justification— much less a substantial one—for excluding B.P.J. from the girls cross country and track teams,” according to the majority opinion.

More broadly, the majority concluded, “Without more, the defendants may not simply posit that all cisgender girls are entitled to be protected from competition from all transgender girls, even when the result is harm to transgender girls.”

The third judge on the panel, Agee, said the appeals ruling went too far. The dissenting opinion by Steven Agee said B.P.J., as she is called in the court filings, took opportunities away from other girls. Agee’s dissent highlighted that Becky Pepper-Jackson “dominated track meets.”

“Rather than finishing near the back of the pack — as B.P.J. contended would be the case in the motion for the injunction — B.P.J. consistently placed in the top fifteen participants at track-and-field events and often placed in the top ten. In so doing, over one hundred biological girls participating in these events were displaced by and denied athletic opportunities because of B.P.J.,” the judge wrote.

“Additionally, B.P.J. earned a spot at the conference championship in both shot put and discus. Because participation in a conference championship event requires that the athlete place in the top three competitors at their school, judged by their best performance that season, two biological girls were denied participation in the conference championships because of B.P.J.”

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