Transgender teen booed after winning girls’ track race at state championship

A transgender teenager was booed at an Oregon sports stadium after winning a race during the state’s high school track and field championship over the weekend.

Multiple videos posted on social media show McDaniel High School sophomore Aayden Gallagher being booed by a crowd of onlookers as she crossed the finish line first in the 200-meter race at the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) Track and Field State Championships on Saturday. Boos could also be heard as the teenage runner received her gold medal at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field in Eugene, the videos show.

Gallagher’s win quickly went viral on social media, with some critics characterizing her participation in the girls’ division as unfair, arguing that those assigned male at birth are inherently stronger and faster than those assigned female at birth. Others hurled transphobic insults at the high schooler.

“Another proud moment for women’s sports!” Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer who has consistently spoken out against trans athletes participating on women’s sports teams, wrote sarcastically on X following the race. “Aayden Gallagher (male) just placed 1st in the Oregon state championship in the women’s 200m after placing 2nd in the 400m. Just listen to the audible BOOS. People are over this...& it’s about time.”

Libs of TikTok, a far-right social media account that is largely dedicated to mocking LGBTQ people and has more than 3 million followers on X, also condemned Gallagher’s win, posting about it several times over the weekend.

“Listen to the audience’s loud BOOs as they announce him as the winner!,” the account, which was started by former real estate agent Chaya Raichik, shared on Saturday. “People are sick of this madness!”

A representative for OSAA, which governs public and private high school athletics in Oregon, did not immediately return a request for comment regarding Gallagher’s win, the response from the crowd and the resulting backlash.

Valerie Feder, the director of media relations for Portland Public Schools, the school district that operates McDaniel High School, said in a statement that the high school was following OSAA’s rules and declined to comment further.

The backlash following Gallagher’s win is the latest flashpoint in a yearslong and divisive debate over whether trans athletes, and particularly trans girls and women, should be allowed to participate in sporting events that match their gender identities.

A majority of Americans, 69%, say that trans athletes should only be allowed to compete on sports teams that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth, according to a 2023 Gallup poll of roughly 1,000 adults living in the United States.

Half of U.S. states — not including Oregon — have bans on transgender students participating in school sports that align with their gender identity, according to LGBTQ think tank Movement Advancement Project. Injunctions are temporarily blocking some of these laws, including those in Arizona, Idaho and Utah, according to MAP.

The OSAA’s policy on trans athletes “allows students to participate for the athletic or activity program of their consistently asserted gender identity while providing a fair and safe environment for all students.” It does not require that trans athletes undergo transition-related medical care before competing.

Twelve Republican state lawmakers sent a letter to the OSAA in April condemning the policy and vowing to challenge it. The lawmakers, all of whom are women, cited Gallagher’s participation in the girls’ high school track and field division as the reason for their concern.

Cyd Zeigler, the founder of LGBTQ sports site Outsports and a longtime LGBTQ advocate, condemned the backlash against Gallagher’s win.

“For conservatives to attack her as a ‘cheater’ and saying she couldn’t make it as a boy so now she’s a girl, it’s just disgusting,” Zeigler said in an interview. “This is the kind of rhetoric — when you’re a teenager and you hear it on the stands and you see it on social media — this is the kind of stuff that causes kids to hurt themselves.”

Zeigler also noted that Gallagher did not break any rules in participating in the girls’ track race, as her participation is allowed under OSAA guidelines.

“The criticism is misdirected,” Zeigler said of those taking issue with Gallagher’s participation. “Their real problem is with the rulemakers, not this kid.”

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