Laurel Hubbard, Olympics’ First Openly Transgender Woman, Stokes Debate on Fairness

Her comments led to their own backlash.

“We’re all about equality for women in sport, but right now, that equality has been taken away from us,” Lambrechs told TVNZ. “Weight lifters come up to me and say, like, what can we do? Like, this isn’t fair, what can we do? And unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do because every time we try to voice it, we get told to be quiet.”

At the weight lifting competition in Tokyo, athletes have largely avoided discussing the significance of Hubbard’s presence at the Games. Sabine Kusterer, a German woman competing in the 59-kilogram event, several classes below Hubbard, expressed mixed feelings. She was “sad,” she said, that there has been so much focus on Hubbard’s identity rather than on how much she can lift.

Yet Kusterer also said the rules are unfair. She wondered whether organizers could create another category for transgender women, adding that Hubbard was an outlier not only because of her transition, but because of her age.

Hubbard stopped weight lifting in her 20s because, she told an interviewer, “it just became too much to bear” as she struggled to cope with her identity. She resumed competing five years after she transitioned in 2012. When she won three titles in 2017, her performances triggered a firestorm on social media.

Hubbard is not the only athlete at the Tokyo Games whose identity does not fit neatly into longstanding gender categorizations. Quinn, a midfielder on the Canadian women’s soccer team who uses only one name, is nonbinary and has always competed with women. Chelsea Wolfe, a transgender woman, is an alternate on the American BMX team.

For years, the most contentious issues related to gender and sex had not been about the right of transgender athletes to compete but about women, like Caster Semenya, a South African runner who is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 800 meters, who have naturally high levels of testosterone compared with most women.