In a groundbreaking moment for transgender athletes fighting for the right to compete, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has become the first transgender athlete in history to be named to an Olympic team.
The 43-year-old Auckland native was among five weightlifters selected for New Zealand’s Olympic team on Monday.
“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” Hubbard said in a statement.
News of the milestone led to an outpouring of support among the transgender community, including triathlete and fellow transgender athlete Chris Mosier.
“Laurel Hubbard becoming the first transgender athlete in the Olympics will be meaningful — to the trans community as a whole, but to me specifically, as I’ve spent over the last decade of my life trying to lay the groundwork for this moment,” Mosier said on Twitter.
The announcement also generated debate around the topic of fairness and equality regarding transgender athletes competing against non-transgender females, an issue that has caused Hubbard to face criticism over the years.
WATCH | Laurel Hubbard’s Olympic selection a polarizing topic:
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) implemented a rule change in 2015 that allows transgender athletes to compete as women in the Olympics if their testosterone levels are below a specific level.
Hubbard transitioned in 2013 after previously competing as a male, and she has consistently met all of the IOC’s eligibility regulations for transgender athletes. She is set to compete in the 87-kilogram-plus category as the oldest weightlifter at the Tokyo Games.
‘Outrage’ from Athletics Alberta head
Among those questioning the fairness of Hubbard’s Olympic selection was the president of Athletics Alberta, Linda Blade.
“My top-line reaction is astonishment. And a little bit of outrage, obviously, that a male body can be participating in female women’s sports with the blessing of the International Olympic Committee,” Blade said.
“I think what it’s going to do is to just give the little girls the message that you don’t belong in sport anymore.”
Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand president Richie Patterson was quick to address the issue Monday.
“We do know that there are many questions about fairness of transgender athletes competing in the Olympic games but I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all that Laurel has met all of the required criteria,” Patterson said.
“She is a very dedicated and resilient athlete, and on behalf of Laurel I would like to say how honoured she is to be in the team and appreciative of the support and help she has received to date.”
WATCH | Do transgender athletes have an unfair advantage?
Transgender advocate Susan Gapka called the milestone “a long time coming.”
“There’s going to be a lot of pushback from people who think it’s unfair, but this individual meets the legal requirements,” Gapka told Jamie Strashin of CBC Sports on Monday.
Gapka hopes the news of Hubbard competing in the Olympics can lead to a larger discussion on the importance of inclusiveness for transgender people in sport.
“To tell people, ‘You’re not included,’ is just wrong and not acceptable in today’s society. They’ll meet the criteria, they’ll compete.”
Hubbard won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships before claiming gold at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.
She suffered a significant setback when she sustained a major elbow injury at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but she has since battled back to be ranked fourth in the women’s super heavyweight division heading into the Summer Games.
Above all else, Hubbard’s Olympic story can serve as inspiration for future generations of transgender athletes hoping to compete at the highest level of their respective sports, Gapka said.
“They can see a role model,” Gapka said. “If someone wants to play in sports and says, ‘But what about me? Where do I belong?’ they can see someone that they can aspire to be.
“People need to have dreams and hope, and I just think that’s what it does for our next generation of [transgender] people.”