Who is Laurel Hubbard? Meet the transgender athlete breaking barriers at the Tokyo Olympics
43-year-old Laurel Hubbard is competing on New Zealand’s Olympic team in Tokyo as the first transgender weightlifter to compete in the Olympics.
Laurel Hubbard is en elite weightlifter and one of the first transgender athletes to participate in the Olympic Games. She is paving the way for transgender athletes, but this breakthrough for the community hasn’t come without controversy.
In 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed its rules regarding whether or not transgender athletes can compete in the Olympics. It was decided that to compete as a woman, the individual must go one year with testosterone levels below a determined amount. Additionally, athletes can qualify only four years (minimum) after transitioning.
Testosterone increases neurotransmitters, which impacts tissue growth. With exercise, testosterone helps build muscle mass. Though testosterone is predominantly spoken about in the context of men, women also naturally produce a small amount of testosterone.
Laurel Hubbard followed all of the IOC’s guidelines, meaning she is qualified and legally able to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Who are the critics? What do they believe?
Critics both from Hubbard’s sport and outside of her sport have argued against the IOC’s decision. Weightlifter, Anna Vanbellinghen, went so far as to say, “It’s like a bad joke.” Vanbellinghen said that she fully supports the transgender community, but is totally against this decision by the IOC.
Critics like Piers Morgan have said this decision is unfair because humans born as men have an unfair physical advantage. Because Hubbard did not transition until adulthood, critics say her body has developed muscle mass and muscle memory that cannot be reversed. Further, they argue that her tendons and bones are naturally bigger and stronger.
Athletes and activists around the world stand with Hubbard
Though Hubbard is the most talked-about transgender athlete in the Tokyo Olympics, she is not the only transgender athlete. In 2020, Canadian soccer player, Quinn, came out as transgender. She also qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. When asked about her position on the topic, Quinn said, “Mostly, I feel aware of the realities, Trans girls being banned from sports. Trans women facing discrimination and bias while trying to pursue their Olympic dreams. The fight isn't close to over... and I'll celebrate when we're all here.”
Amidst the controversy, the Olympics stated publicly that they stand by the rules. They have been established by the International Weightlifting Federation and the IOC for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The IOC is not certain the rule will extend to future Olympics, but so far, it has been a breakthrough for the community and is well-deserved. The IOC has started the precedent, and the research will follow.
Dr. Richard Budgett, the medical director of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics for the IOC said, “we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games...When it comes to advantages & disadvantages there‘s always more to learn.”
While Hubbard is being praised by many and has huge support behind her, she has faced significant online bullying and harassment. She has remained quiet on the subject but has said in an interview, “I am who I am. I’m not here to change the world. I just want to be me and do what I do.”
Additionally, more goes into competing than just one’s physiology. The issue is complex. Dr. Budgett said, “There are lots of aspects of physiology and anatomy, and the mental side, that contributes to elite performance. It’s very difficult to say, ‘yes, she has an advantage because she went through male puberty,’ when there’s so many other factors to take into account.”
Hubbard has put in the work, followed the rules, and won the competitions to be able to compete and follow her dreams. Whether she will be able to do that in the future is up to question.
Laurel Hubbard thanks the IOC
Simone Biles has recently removed herself from several competitions in the Olympics to prioritize her mental health. She said on social media, “I truly do feel the weight of the world.” This begs the question, should we reevaluate putting the weight of the world on Laurel Hubbard for being one of the first transgender athletes to participate in the Olympics? Hubbard has been at the front and center of the transgender debate.
While Hubbard has not spoken to the media regarding her placement on the Olympic team, she has released a statement saying, "I see the Olympic Games as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals, and values and I would like to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible."