By James Finn | DETROIT – Luc Esquivel loves playing golf! That’s kind of amazing considering when he was born, he had to be emergency-airlifted to a children’s hospital to correct a heart defect. His survival was already in serious question, then the procedure caused a bad brain bleed. Doctors warned his parents that if he lived, he might be severely disabled.
But Luc’s a stubborn kid. He didn’t just live, he thrived.
He still suffers health consequences from his traumatic entry into the world, but he doesn’t let anything get him down. Nobody would have predicted he would become a gifted athlete, but he did. He’s a bright student and super-talented young golfer.
So, why won’t Tennessee let him play?
When Luc was 10, he tried soccer and basketball but didn’t enjoy them. Then, “My mom took me to a golf clinic for kids at a local driving range. I got a free golf lesson from a coach and right away I was so hooked that my parents signed me up for weekly lessons.”
He and his dad play together a lot, and Luc is known at local courses as a force to be reckoned with. At 14 years old, he plays 4 to 5 times a week and has an impressive 12 handicap. If you don’t know golf, that’s pretty darn good for a kid.
He’s also on his middle school boys golf team, where he’s made good friends and won a few awards. Or I should say, he WAS.
Luc is a transgender boy, and a Tennessee law kicked him off the team
Luc says he’s long identified as a boy, since before he was 10. He talked to his parents about his identity in the winter of 2021 and with their support and school staff support, socially transitioned. His new public identity wasn’t a huge change. His friends took it in stride since he’d worn boys clothes for years and they already called him Luc as a nickname.
But now it was official. He didn’t see the transition as such a big deal. “I’m still me,” Luc says. “I’m more me than I’ve ever been.”
After social transitioning, he became anxious about his body changing during puberty, so he started temporary puberty blockers prescribed by a board-certified endocrinologist working with his family doctors. He plans to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after he turns 16 so he can go through male puberty.
For now, he’s an ordinary 14-year-old boy, but he’s not on his new high school golf team. He’s not allowed to try out, because Tennessee passed SB 228, which bans transgender middle and high school students from playing on teams that match their gender.
Luc made headlines last November when he was still in middle school, speaking out to help people understand how the bill would hurt kids like him for no reason. Sadly, Tennessee lawmakers didn’t listen.
Now Luc is making headlines again as the ACLU and Lambda Legal sue in federal court for his right to play school sports
Luc tells Golf Digest that he doesn’t get it. Four months before Tennessee passed the law that banned him from playing golf with boys, the state celebrated Sarah Fuller of Nashville’s Vanderbilt University — as she became the first woman to play in a Division I football game. Sarah is cisgender, assigned female at birth.
Luc wants to know why he could play college football with boys if he identified as a girl, but he can’t play golf with boys in high school. He says it doesn’t make any sense:
“At the time I felt like — is this going to sound mean? — the Tennessee lawmakers were being drama queens. They acted like they were cleaning up a problem, but they were really just creating a new mess. I was just like, Whatever.”
Now Luc’s lawyers are asking those questions in federal court.
14-year-old Luc Esquivel wants nothing more than a fair shot — but Tennessee lawmakers have banned him and other trans athletes from playing alongside their teammates.
We’re proud to defend Luc’s right to play and the rights of all transgender students.https://t.co/5sgK0sXlnd
— ACLU (@ACLU) April 26, 2022
They’re asking what gives Tennessee the right to discriminate against transgender kids like Luc. Tennessee lawmakers say they’re protecting girls from unfair competition and protecting trans boys from danger. Luc rolls his eyes at that, according to Golf Digest, in perfect 14-year-old form. He knows he’s not in danger playing golf, as does anyone who plays the game.
He knows that at his level of play, golf is barely a gendered game, anyway. He probably knows elite women golfers sometimes outplay men. A few women have even played on men’s PGA tours, seeking higher levels of personal challenge.
Besides, since Luc was assigned female at birth, and since he’s decided to delay puberty, wouldn’t he be at a competitive advantage compared to bigger, more developed boys? So what’s the fairness problem letting him continue to (sometimes) outplay bigger boys?
Luc Esquivel and all transgender students must have the right to play sports
School sports are good for kids. Well rounded lives balance academic, physical, and relationship pursuits. Sports is one way teens can pursue that balance, which is probably why students who get good grades and enjoy school sports report more happiness and fulfillment later in life.
Transgender kids deserve the same chance at happiness and fulfillment as other kids, but an avalanche of discriminatory laws are cutting trans athletes from their teams without any good cause, addressing no social need, redressing no wrong.
I wrote two weeks ago about Fischer Wells, A 12-year-old trans girl in Kentucky kicked off the field hockey team she founded, even though she had made sports more available to girls in her middle school.
Public commentary about Luc is ugly, pointless, and cruel
In response to Luc’s own essay about why playing on the boy’s golf team is important to him, one reader wrote, “If she was born with a vagina, she’s a girl. When it’s feelings vs. biology wins. Get over it. Wear pants and play with the girls.”
Other comments on social media are far more crude, if no more grounded in reasoning or empathy. A vocal segment of the public are furious with Luc, and they’re downright nasty about it, calling him cruel names and indulging in naked vitriol over his transgender identity, and nothing BUT his transgender identity.
What do people have to be nasty about? Luc isn’t threatening anyone. He doesn’t have an unfair competitive advantage. He’s not in any personal danger on the links.
Luc is thriving — with tons of friends and good grades, enjoying a sport he loves — after entering the world so disadvantaged he almost didn’t live.
His mother Shelley Esquivel says she’s angry, telling Lambda Legal she’s behind her son’s lawsuit: “A mother wants to see their kid happy, thriving, enjoying being a kid. High school sports are an important part of that. It’s heartbreaking to see him miss out on this high school experience… I’m proud Luc is taking this step, and his father and I are with him all the way.”
What Tennessee lawmakers are doing to Luc is wrong
Tons of misinformation about trans youth gets thrown around, gets leveraged by politicians, gets used to rile up political bases. That has to stop. Real kids like Luke and Fischer are at the wrong end of that stick. They’re just going to school, making friends, and playing sports. They don’t deserve to be demonized over a non-issue.
Trans kids playing sports aren’t an actual, on-the-ground controversy anywhere in the US, not even in states like California where trans teens have long been allowed to play school sports. Trans middle and high school athletes aren’t dominating leagues or making news anywhere.
In fact, when Fischer was forced to hang up her cleats, she was the only transgender girl athlete on any Kentucky team. In Tennessee, only a tiny handful of trans kids play sports in school.
Luc is one of them. He’s a great kid who doesn’t deserve the mud people are slinging at him. He certainly doesn’t deserve strangers talking about his genitals.
Luc is a boy who’s pretty good at golf. Luc is a boy whose teammates and coaches like him and want him to play. What do you say the rest of us mind our own business?
Transgender people exist, some of them are teenagers, and they must have the right to lead ordinary lives. They must have the right to thrive. Like Luc.
James Finn is a columnist for the L.A. Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an “agented” but unpublished novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]
The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.