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Outsports Transgender Athlete Advocate of the Year: Lindsay Hecox

This new award recognizes a trans athlete standing up for the community and the right to play sports: Lindsay Hecox. Mitch Harrison was also nominated.

Lindsay Hecox is a runner at Boise State
Lindsay Hecox
Shelby Weldon/Angie Smith/Washington Post

For 2020, Outsports has created a new award to honor a transgender athlete who took a public stand against the opponents of LGBTQ inclusion and equality. This inaugural Transgender Athlete Advocate Award goes to Lindsay Hecox, a sophomore at Boise State University in Idaho who this month won the backing of out sports icons like Billie Jean King, Katie Sowers and Megan Rapinoe.

“I’m really honored, pleased, and just kind of happily surprised,” the long distance runner told Outsports, upon learning of the award. “I’m happy to represent my part of the acronym,” she said, adding that her efforts have taken a personal toll.

Hecox, 20, has opted to pause her college education in 2021, given what she described as the stress of trying to balance her school work with her legal battle, not to mention the steep cost of enrolling as an out of state student.

“For one, I just need a break from school since I didn’t do too well this past semester,” Hecox told Outsports in an email. “And two, it allows me to focus on my full-time work that I must do for a year to gain Idaho residency for school purposes —much lower tuition.”

This is a student athlete who spent all four years of high school in California competing in track and field, and three running cross country. She called those years the best part of high school, in an op-ed this past summer:

“My teammates became my whole friend group, my coaches were my mentors, and the discipline of group practices helped me focus better on my schoolwork. Running with a team gave me confidence, made me feel good, and also helped me forget about my sadness and internal struggles.”

Those struggles are something Hecox addressed in 2019 by coming out as transgender following graduation. But as her freshman year hit high gear in 2020, she faced two all-new challenges: Covid-19, and the state government of Idaho blocked her from competing as the young woman she is. Gov. Bradley Little signed into law HB 500, which bans all women and girls who are trans from competing in school sports at any level.

“It’s not just that I don’t get to run,” Hecox told us in an exclusive interview last May with Karleigh Webb, Alex Reimer and myself on the Outsports podcast, The Trans Sporter Room. “This sets things up for more anti-trans laws in the future.”

With a coalition of attorneys including the American Civil Liberties Union backing her, Hecox took the bold step of suing Gov. Little for her right to compete. Those supporting the governor include two cisgender female Idaho State University track and field athletes, Madison Kenyon and Mary Kate Marshall, and the Christian legal activists at the extremist hate group, the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Her hope was to get the law tossed out so she could try out for BSU’s cross country team, a possibility created in August when U.S. District Judge David Nye put HB 500, also known as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” on hold.

The federal judge agreed to place a preliminary injunction on the new law from remaining in effect, pending the final outcome in the case of Hecox v. Little.

And so thanks to that judge’s ruling, Hecox finally got her chance this fall.

“I did try out,” she told Outsports. “I ran a 3200-meter time trial at our local track at Dona Larson Park. Unfortunately I did not make the team, and I never got the details, like how close I was, how many runners were selected to be on the team this season. I think it changes from year to year, but no matter how it happened, I wasn’t one of the top runners.”

Hecox said she has every intention to give it another go.

“I plan to try out maybe once more,” she wrote, “because if I fail to make it on twice, then it’s probably not meant to be.” But Hecox added that since she’s taking a break from classes in 2021, “It will be at least 2022 when I try out again. I know that’s awhile, but it is actually good, in my opinion, to potentially make the team then. I’m too stressed out as is.”

Last week, Hecox received a stress reliever in the form of a legal boost from some of the biggest names in sports: tennis legend Billie Jean King, World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe, WNBA star Layshia Clarendon. 49ers trailblazing coach Katie Sowers, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Candace Parker and Team USA’s Meghan Duggan are among the hundreds of athletes, coaches, and businesses, as well as civil rights, legal, and medical experts who signed an amicus brief in support of Hecox and her lawsuit against HB 500.

“This law flies in the face of bedrock principles of equality and diversity in sports,” the signatories wrote to the judge. “The law, in fact, harms women athletes through exclusion, discrimination, and denial of the benefits that flow from participation in sport.”

Billie Jean King added:

“There is no place in any sport for discrimination of any kind. I am proud to support all transgender athletes who simply want the access and opportunity to compete in the sport they love. The global athletic community grows stronger when we welcome and champion all athletes — including LGBTQI+ athletes.”

Given the all-star power behind her, one thing Hecox told Outsports she is not putting on pause next year is her battle for equality. “I am definitely more than happy to be continuing the fight for this issue in court!”

Find out more about Lindsay Hecox’s legal battle through the ACLU website by clicking here.

Our Other Nominee:

Mitch Harrison is a trans man who competed on NBC’s Titan Games in 2020.
Mitch Harrison
Shelby Weldon/Photo by Danny Ventrella/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Mitch Harrison was the first transgender competitor to appear in the strength and endurance competition series, The Titan Games on NBC, and in doing so provided the worldwide television viewing audience a perspective of trans athletes they’d never seen before.

The program, produced by professional wrestling megastar and box office draw Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, gave Harrison a shot at reality show stardom as well as a platform to show the world that trans men are men.

The 32-year-old personal trainer and security guard from Kenai, Alaska is believed to be the first out transgender athlete to have this type of opportunity on network TV.

“I was on the stage to be Mitch and present Mitch to the world,” Harrison told Outsports contributor Karleigh Webb in a far-ranging interview in June. “That by far is the most rewarding thing of this whole experience.”

The Titan Games — Season: 2
Mitch Harrison, left, with Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson on The Titan Games.
Photo by: Hiram Garcia/NBC

This wasn’t his first time standing on a big stage as an athlete. Harrison was a three-year basketball reserve at Stanford as part of three NCAA Final Four teams. He transferred to Utah in his final year of eligibility in 2010-2011, and paced them to a Mountain West Conference tournament title and an NCAA berth.

Harrison started his transition in 2016. The Titan Games marked his first competitive sports event since ending his pro basketball career abroad in 2013. He noted the atmosphere at The Titan Games was largely supportive among producers and competitors and he hoped to use that and a solid performance in the competition to spur positive dialogue.

“I’m hoping this is the door that I would love for this opportunity to open and helps open more up to this discussion and how can we allow more trans people to progress of sports,” Harrison asked. “I think it would be such honor to perhaps change somebody’s mind and now they are actually open to this discussion.”

You can follow Mitch Harrison (@theiron_wolf) on Instagram by clicking here. Listen to Mitch’s interview with Karleigh and myself on a June episode of the Outsports podcast, The Trans Sporter Room, by clicking here.

Outsports is unveiling the 2020 honorees every day through Wednesday, Dec. 30.