Society

Transgender Weightlifter's Victory Is Not Legitimate

| by Mark Jones

Laurel Hubbard's victory -- while impressive -- is not legitimate. 

Hubbard, a 39-year-old weightlifter from New Zealand, competed in the Australian Invitational in Melbourne on March 19, reports The New Zealand Herald. She competed in the women's 200-pound division, and set four national records. 

In total, she lifted a combined total of over 590 pounds, which put her approximately 42 pounds ahead of her nearest competitor. There is speculation that her performance will lead to her earning a place on New Zealand's team that will compete at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.

Hubbard's performance is also notable for another reason: She is a transgender athlete. Previously known as Gavin, Hubbard competed as a man at the national level before transitioning in her mid-30s. This makes her the first transgender athlete to represent New Zealand, and also marks Hubbard's first appearance at an international competition.

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The fact that Hubbard is transgender, however, has caused some controversy in the weightlifting community, as it should have. The fact that her victory was so large -- coupled with the fact that she was unable to compete at the same high level as a man -- shows that she did have some unfair advantage.

However, some say that she should have been allowed to compete in light of the International Olympic Committee's guidelines regarding transgender athletes. 

According to the New Zealand Herald, the IOC released new guidelines regarding the competition of transgender athletes in November of 2015. According to these guidelines, a female transgender athlete "must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below [a certain, set amount] for at least 12 months prior to her first competition" in order to compete. 

These guidelines forced officials to allow Hubbard to compete, despite valid concerns about fairness. 

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Deborah Acason from the Australian Weightlifting Federation was doubtful that Hubbard's participation was fair to female athletes.

"It's difficult when you don't believe you're in that situation and being in an even playing field," she said, according to TVNZ.

Hubbard was allowed to compete because she met the IOC's criteria. However, her victory and records should not be considered legitimate. Regardless of how Hubbard identifies, she was still born as a man. This gives her a distinct advantage over the female athletes in her field and undermines their accomplishments.

Some might argue that because Hubbard met the IOC's guidelines, her victory and records should be recognized. However, the IOC's guidelines are not as scientifically sound as some might like to believe.

According to The Conversation, determining the testosterone and estrogen levels that make a person either male or female is extremely complicated. According to the site, "any cutoff point, such as trans women requiring a consistent testosterone level below 10 nmol/L -- the level set by the IOC -- is pretty arbitrary, and ultimately useless."

With this in mind, it is pretty clear that Hubbard's victory should be considered illegitimate. In addition, the IOC and other athletic committees need to work together to come up with better guidelines that will allow transgender athletes to compete in sporting events without unfair advantages.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The New Zealand Herald, TVNZ, The Conversation / Photo credit: Usodesita/Flickr

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