13-year-old Becky Pepper-Jackson took home first and second at her county championships and got a lot of derision for just being there. | ACLU

Two days after a federal appeals court upheld a trans athlete’s right to be on her middle-school track team, a 13-year-old eighth-grade trans girl named Becky Pepper-Jackson stepped into a shot put ring at a middle school county championship meet in West Virginia.

She was sixth in the same event at these county championships last year. She’s put in a lot of work since then and is unbeaten in the shot put so far this season.

As she was making her throws, five other competitors from a different school stepped in the ring and then stepped out. They scratched their throws as Pepper-Jackson took hers and ended up winning with a toss of 32 feet-9 inches.

In a world without transphobia, this probably gets a line or two in a community paper recap of the meet.

We don’t live in that world.

At 13, Pepper-Jackson gets called a “man” or a “boy” by some adults. She’s made out to be a “threat” whose parents are “transing their child” and “committing child abuse.”

Certain professional transphobes and anti-trans activists — former collegiate swimmer Riley Gaines the most prominent among them — have spread a video of each of the kids protesting Pepper-Jackson’s participation at the meet to further sell a 13-year-old girl as a threat to “fairness and safety.”

My question to all these people, whether they are the average internet rando or professional transphobes like members of the Independent Council on Women’s Sports (also known as ICONS Women), or the various flavors of the “anti-woke” right-wing sports media is: Why are you adults picking on a kid?

It’s not the first time adults have acted like playground bullies when it comes to trans youth. In Utah, you can force an investigation on a girl playing sports who isn’t “the right kind of girl.”

In Oklahoma last year, a transgender boy who got a part in a school play had certain parents all fired up because he wasn’t “the right kind of boy.”

In nearly five years at Outsports, I’ve seen quite a few high school kids, and young trans athletes in college, in the crosshairs of these transphobes.

This isn’t new.

Still, something about this Pepper-Jackson case strikes a raw nerve.

Those seeking to sell transphobia are painting a 13-year-old, who has competed with the support of her peers and her school for three years, as a “problem.” To some, she’s not seen as a kid. They frame her as a predatory “adult” trying to “invade girls’ spaces.”

“If we take trans off the conversation, they are just children that want to play with their friends, have hobbies and just do what children do,” UK-based advocate Verity Smith said. He’s also worked directly with sports clubs and teams to help get trans youth a place in the game and educates coaches and administrators. Smith is a trans athlete in his own right in wheelchair rugby.

He points out that a certain negative narrative about this kid is put forth and notes who places it in view.

“The media has a massive part to play in the voices of hate against trans kids,” he continued. “It’s not other young people, it’s adults and parents. It’s learned behavior as children don’t hate.”

Trans athlete and advocate Verity Smith (left) and Inclusion consultant Jen Fry (right) both say in this and many cases, transphobes seek to paint trans youth as menacing adults

Sports inclusion consultant Jen Fry took this explanation further. She notes that the framing of five cisgender girls as “victims standing up against male participation” is mainly about an issue many don’t wish to address.

“I think we need to acknowledge that the convo isn’t about trans boys playing sports. It is only about trans girls,” Fry stated. “There is this patriarchal thought process that trans girls will always be bigger, faster, stronger than cis girls.

“This is why you see all the BS of ‘save women’s sports.’ They think because they have been taught that boys are always better than girls that it transcends into trans girls always being better than cis girls.”

I believe in the right to have beliefs and protest. Yet I find here that the same people who would say that Pepper-Jackson is a “cheat” and their parents are “transing their child” are the same people trying to say that five middle school students, and their peers, are acting by their own volition. For a large number of cisgender young people, a transgender person as a peer or a teammate is no big deal.

The adults who make this a big deal are the same people who say the issue is about “fairness.” When I hear this, I’m brought back to the question that journalist and author Frankie de la Cretaz asks often: Fairness for whom?

Is it fair that a kid who competed without controversy when she wasn’t winning now has to deal with cisgender people’s discomfort about transgender women and girls winning?

Is it fair that a kid who has never gone through any stage of male puberty, the important thing that anti-trans actors say must happen but fight like hell to make the means to do so illegal, is seen as a menace?

Don’t expect an answer from the people making Becky Pepper-Jackson the “evil boy pretending to be a girl.”

“It’s people who have no clue the emotional damage that they are doing to their mental wellness. Shame on them,” trans youth advocate and author Tony Ferraiolo said. “It’s extremely heartbreaking to say that some people just don’t get us and our youth. This issue is the suffering they are causing.”

Tony Ferraiolo is a life coach and author who is trans and who advocates for better care for trans youth. | tonyferraiolo.com

That is a topic even well-meaning people are skittish to consider. This question may intensify in the weeks ahead.

What we’ve seen and what we may see next leaves me with a bitter taste. Adults with an ugly agenda are using young cisgender girls to dehumanize a transgender girl because she won a middle-school sports event. And she competed within the rules.

If the actions of these bigoted adults are not child abuse, please tell me what is.