The issue of transgender inclusion in sports is once again a topic of discussion after a transgender woman won two gold medals at the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games. Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand won the women’s 87kg (191-pound) category with a 268kg (590-pound) total lift, and she took the top prize in the snatch with 125kg (275 pounds).

Laurel was born Gavin Hubbard and represented New Zealand in weightlifting competitions as a man until her transition in 2012. In 2017, she won gold at the Australian International & Australian Open, becoming the first-ever transgender woman to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand.

In all competitions, she’s met International Olympic Committee requirements for transgender athletes by proving her testosterone levels were below a certain level, allowing her to compete against cisgender women. 

She’s faced opposition throughout her career from critics who say she shouldn’t be able to compete in the women’s division, and the Pacific Games was no different. The Samoan Observer, the island’s biggest newspaper, ran an editorial in which editor Mata’afa Keni Lesa said Hubbard “shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

“Yes he lifted against people like himself, boys and men that is, where he rightfully belonged,” the editor wrote. “That was until he changed his mind and became a transgender.”

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Lesa said Hubbard robbed hometown hero Feagaiga Stowers, who came in second overall, of “her moment.” He later writes, “We cannot say that allowing a transgender to compete against women is fair. It is grossly unfair for women like Stowers, or all women, for that matter.”

Medical experts and sports officials have disagreed on whether transgender women have an edge over biological women. Recently, the USA Powerlifting National Board of Governors overwhelmingly rejected a proposed policy that would’ve allowed transgender women to compete in the women’s division.

That decision was made months after the USAPL banned transgender woman JayCee Cooper from competing in Minnesota’s State Bench Press Championship (advocacy group Gender Justice lodged a formal discrimination complaint against the USAPL in June).

Many medical experts, though, say transgender women have no physical advantage over their cisgender counterparts.

Hubbard is looking to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (though reckless driving charges filed against her could endanger that possibility). If she makes it, look for the issue of transgender inclusion to make major headlines throughout the year.

As always, we’ll be following the issue closely. 

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