A transgender student has vowed she ‘won’t give up’ in her fight to compete against biological girls in sports, going as far as to take puberty blockers to aid her case.
Becky Pepper-Jackson, 13, has been in a years-long struggle to compete in sports since West Virginia Governor Jim Justice banned transgender athletes from competing in middle school, high school and college in May 2021.
She is seeking to keep her place on her school’s cross-country, discus and shot-put teams, and pledged to NBC News that she will ‘keep going because this is something I love to do.’
Pepper-Jackson was in court Friday as lawyers argued that West Virginia‘s ban is unconstitutional before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an ongoing legal battle that could see her case decided by the US Supreme Court.
Becky Pepper-Jackson, 13, a transgender teen, has vowed that she ‘won’t give up’ in her attempts to compete against biological girls
The 13-year-old is fighting to remain on her school’s cross-country, discus and shot-put teams, with her mother saying she launched a lawsuit because ‘if she won’t if she didn’t start the fight, who’s going to?’
Becky has been allowed to compete in her school’s sports due to an injunction against West Virginia’s ban was reinstated in February.
In response, the state appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court, which rejected reinstating the ban in April. Following Becky’s hearing on Friday, the court of appeals is set to decide again on the law, which could see her case heard by the Supreme Court.
Her decision to take puberty blockers could become central to the case, as experts have warned that going through male puberty affords a permanent unfair physical advantage in sports, even if an individual undergoes gender-reassignment procedures later in life.
Becky’s lawyer, Joshua Block of the ACLU, argued on Friday that the puberty blockers will prevent her from ever going through male puberty and thus not receiving any potential physical advantage.
He claimed that West Virginia’s law ‘goes out of its way to select criteria that do not create athletic advantage but do a perfect job of accomplishing the function of excluding transgender students based on their transgender status.’
‘(The law) could have been drafted to actually adopt criteria that are relevant to athletic performance, but it doesn’t,’ he continued. ‘It picks criteria that define being transgender.’
The state’s solicitor general argued in response that when the district court first ruled in favor of the law when it passed in 2021, they ‘got it right that sports is a uniquely strong case for differences rooted in biology’.
Becky’s decision to take puberty blockers also comes as several states, including Florida, have moved to ban them for teenagers based on the irreversibility of the drugs and the growing number of people choosing to ‘de-transition’.
In the face of pushback to Becky’s lawsuit, her mother Heather Pepper-Jackson said Becky hasn’t been deterred and continues to practice religiously.
Despite transgender inclusion in sports becoming a hot button issue, Becky’s mother said she hasn’t faced backlash at school. ‘Her friends still treat her exactly the same, her teachers treat her exactly the same’
A promotional poster created after Becky launched her lawsuit in 2021
‘She likes to do the best in everything, be it algebra or running or shot put or discus,’ Heather said, adding she will often stay late at practice sessions and will train in their backyard in the rain.
‘She tries to excel in everything that she does, just like any other kid… if she didn’t start the fight, who’s going to?’
Becky added that her case, which has stretched on for over two years, has been fueled by her love of sports.
‘I want to keep going because this is something I love to do, and I’m not just going to give it up,’ she said. ‘This is something I truly love, and I’m not going to give up for anything.’
Her fight against West Virginia’s law came as the state became one of the first to introduce restrictions against transgender student athletes competing against students racing under their biological gender.
In the years since, 23 other states have passed similar restrictions, although West Virginia, Idaho and Arizona have had their laws temporarily blocked, and Montana‘s was permanently blocked in relation to college sports.
When he signed the law, Governor Justice cited his experience as a youth sports coach as justification, telling MSNBC: ‘I coach a girls’ basketball team, and I can tell you that we all know what an absolute advantage boys would have playing against girls.’
While experts have come out behind Justice’s stance as the topic grows in the national spotlight, Heather said Becky’s inclusion in sports hasn’t affected her negatively at school.
‘Her friends still treat her exactly the same, her teachers treat her exactly the same,’ Heather said. ‘She’s just a regular kid that just wants to play, so that hasn’t changed at all.’
‘We don’t like to be in the spotlight,’ she continued, adding that the family are cautious of being approached in public due to Becky’s case.
Becky says she has been disappointed to watch states continue to pass trans athlete bans, with Heather adding that it is upsetting ‘because it seems to be the issue du jour.’
‘Politicians are out there fighting for votes, and they just jump on a bandwagon without ever researching it for themselves, when if people would just do their own research, the biology and the science is out there to prove what we’re looking for,’ Heather said.
‘We just want to be accepted, and she just wants to be a kid. It shouldn’t be that hard to be a kid.’
Becky said she is determined to see her case through to the end because sports are ‘something I truly love, and I’m not going to give up for anything’
In her hearing Friday, she argued that the lawsuit could be used to ‘call for sex-based distinctions to help ensure an equal and fair playing field’, noting that experts for both the state and plaintiff agreed that biological males hold least a small inherent physical advantage over biological females.
However, Block countered that the state’s expert witness also agreed that differences before puberty are ‘minimal’, bringing Becky’s decision to take puberty blockers into prominence.
‘We really hope that the judges were able to recognize this for what it was, which was discrimination against trans girls solely based on the fact that they’re trans,’ Block added to NBC.
With the case ping-ponging between courts, it is now likely to end up before the Supreme Court, an eventuality acknowledged by the judge presiding over Friday’s hearing.
‘I want to thank all counsel for their arguments today, realizing we’re probably only a waystation on the way to the Supreme Court,’ Judge G. Steven Agee told the court.
Current and former athletes say trans athletes like Lia Thomas (left), the swimmer who enjoyed modest success in male categories before becoming a national champion in women’s events after she transitioned, highlight the physical advantages of trans women
In April, Champion cyclist Hannah Arensman announced her retirement from professional cycling after being beaten out to a podium place by Austin Killips, a transgender athlete
The issue was thrust into the spotlight when trans swimmer Lia Thomas became an NCAA champion in March 2022.
Debate has raged ever since, but it was initially raised as a point of contention after the emergence of Cece Telfer – who became the first openly trans woman to win an NCAA title when she placed first in the 400m hurdles at the Division II National Championships in 2019.
The following year, Laurel Hubbard, from New Zealand, became the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Olympics when she took part in weightlifting at the Tokyo games.
In April, champion cyclist Hannah Arensman heartbreakingly announced the end of her dream of competing in the Olympics after losing to a biological male, saying their inclusion meant she would ‘lose no matter how hard I train.’
Laurel Hubbard became the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Olympics in 2020
Cece Telfer became the first openly trans woman to win an NCAA title when she placed first in the 400m hurdles at the Division II National Championships in 2019 (pictured)
Tommy Lundberg, a lecturer in physiology at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and leading researcher on the subject, told DailyMail.com in March: ‘The most important thing is whether or not you have benefited from male development and male puberty and if you’ve done that, you’re going to have advantages you cannot undo later.’
This view was also shared by Nancy Hogshead, a former pro swimmer who won three gold medals and one silver at the 1984 Olympics, who told DailyMail.com: ‘Trans women have an undeniable physical advantage.
‘Their bodies do what male bodies do when they go through puberty and is the reason why we segregate sports ubiquitously around the world.
‘Unless we’re talking about just playing, just recreational sports. All competitive sports is sex-segregated.’
Notably, trans figurehead Caitlyn Jenner, who won gold in the male decathlon at the 1976 Olympics before becoming one of the world’s best-known trans women, has also called Thomas’s success ‘anathema to what sports represents and the spirit of competition’.