Transgender Weightlifter Wins, Opponents Throw A Fit

Laurel Hubbard meets the IOC's guidelines for trans athletes, but transphobic competitors don't seem to care

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Mar 23, 2017 at 11:50 AM ET

New Zealand weighlifter Laurel Hubbard won gold in the 90+ kg division of the 2017 Australasian Championships held in Melbourne, Australia this past weekend. In doing so, Hubbard became the first transgender woman to represent and win a medal for New Zealand in an international competition. It’s a great story for her and her country, but, because she is a trans woman, it can’t just be a nice story. Instead, Hubbard’s success has draws the usual suspicions and allegations that trans athletes often face.

Some of her peers all but said that Hubbard shouldn’t have been allowed to compete. Fellow weightlifter and two-time Olympian Deborah Acason was grateful to not be in Hubbard’s weight class, saying she didn’t feel like entering Hubbard’s division could be an “equal situation.”  Acason added, “I just feel that if it’s not even why are we doing the sport?”

Tracey Lambrecht took Acason’s fears to their logical end. Lambrecht dropped out of Hubbard’s weight class to avoid competing with her. “Personally I think [transgender people] should be able to compete,” Lambrechs told New Zealand’s RadioLIVE, “but they shouldn’t be able to take spots from other female athletes.” Missing, of course, is a tidy explanation of how exactly trans women could compete when they also shouldn’t, in effect, be allowed to compete.

“She is who she is,” said the decidedly more passive aggressive Kaitlyn Fassina. In spite of her discomforts, she’s more or less resigned to the possibility of competing with Hubbard, saying, “That’s the way the politics…and what the New Zealanders have decided. I can’t say much more than that.” That’s plenty fine, she’s said enough!

The most important opinion, of course, is that of the International Olympic Committee. As Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler explained, the latest iteration of IOC bylaws permits trans athletes to compete against people that share their gender identity. Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand president Garry Marshall said as much, telling the New Zealand Herald that regardless of her previous gender identity, OWNZ sought to comply with the IOC’s clear position on the matter. “[The IOC and IWF] do not acknowledge in any way the gender identity of an athlete other than male or female; they’re not described as transgender.”

The key stipulation for trans women athletes is that their testosterone levels remain within specific parameters for 12 months before their competition. As Katelyn Burns succinctly argued for The Establishment, the muscle building advantages obtained from a once-higher testosterone level are dramatically reduced by testosterone blockers. Joanna Harper, a medical physicist and distance runner explained how her transition impacted her athletic performance:

Within three weeks of starting hormone therapy in August 2004, I was markedly slower. I didn’t feel any different while I was running. But I could no longer match my previous times. By 2005, when I was racing in the women’s category, the difference was astounding. I finished one 10K in 42:01 — almost a full five minutes slower than I’d run the same course two years earlier as a man.

By all accounts, Hubbard met the IOC’s established guidelines, and as such, is a fair competitor. And that’s regardless of how her fellow weightlifters might feel. Based on the evidence and testimony we have available, the only thing anyone should do is congratulate Hubbard on her accomplishment.