Opinion: Comments against transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard are seriously damaging

Laurel Hubbard

Laurel Hubbard is set to make history this summer by becoming the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. However, her milestone achievement has already been soured following a comment made by a rival weightlifter.

Anna Vanbellinghen recently made her stance on Hubbard's Tokyo inclusion clear, and her comments are seriously damaging. Not just to transgender athletes, but to the growth of women's sport.

"First off, I would like to stress that I fully support the transgender community and that what I’m about to say doesn’t come from a place of rejection of this athlete’s identity," Vanbellinghen said. "However, anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes.

"I understand that for sports authorities nothing is as simple as following your common sense and that there are a lot of impracticalities when studying such a rare phenomenon, but for athletes, the whole thing feels like a bad joke."

Not only has Vanbellinghen majorly crossed a line by implying Hubbard's inclusion is a joke, but her outlook on how the New Zealand native qualified for Tokyo is completely out of touch.

Laurel Hubbard

Women's sport is profoundly known for its inclusion and fair nature. Female athletes come from a place of minority and disadvantage – they have been forced to work twice as hard simply to prove they are good enough.

In women's football, for instance, jibes around the quality of the game as well as whether they should even be playing at all continue to plague the sport. The players are told to get back to the kitchen, sexual orientation is poked fun at, and persistent jokes around the topic of equal pay simply cannot be left alone.

Yet, despite the online trolls and the ongoing sexism, women's sport has continued to keep its head held high as these athletes quietly, yet brilliant, go about their business. The sport has to be inclusive because it has already experienced being outcast to their male counterparts. Creating segregation within is going against everything women's sport promises to its fans.

Hubbard, 43, transitioned from male to female back in 2012 and has since been competing in women's weightlifting events. She won silver in the 2017 World Championships in the US, before going on to win two golds at the Pacific Games in Samoa in 2019. During the tournament, Hubbard received backlash from the competition's chairman and Samoa's Prime Minister simply for taking part.

Laurel Hubbard

Transgender athletes have been able to compete in the Olympics since Athens 2004, and Hubbard fully complies with the most recent International Olympic Committee regulations on transgender athletes, issued in 2015, but judgement and discrimination is something Hubbard has had to endure for the majority of her career since her transition.

The usual harmonious place that is women's sport has been guilty of rejecting her and refusing to acknowledge she has every right to be here. 

Sadly, it's not just sport that's fighting in-house battles. Charities such as Mermaids announced this week that they are taking action against a non-transgender inclusive queer movement known as the LGB Alliance. Appeals are being lodged to strip this organisation of its charity status, as it ultimately discourages the inclusion of transgender individuals under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. 

These things should not be happening in the 21st century, let alone during Pride Month. To treat transgender individuals as though they're second-class citizens is archaic and abhorrent. Their own society is making an already difficult world even harder for them by refusing to acknowledge them as part of the LGBTQ+ family.

When issues like this are present, it sets an extremely harmful tone that it's okay to treat transgender people this way. If their society can behave like this, then some non-LGBTQ+ individuals will see this as a green light to behave in the same way. Comments like Vanbellinghen's should not be given any room to be normalised.

Hubbard and any other transgender sportswoman has every right to be involved in the women's game. They are there on merit, not as a token, and pushing any other sort of narrative is going to chip away at the women’s sporting community.

News Now - Sport News