Expert: Transgender Olympic athlete could polarize opinion

Jun 23, 2021, 10:37 AM | Updated: 10:46 pm

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A U.S. expert on transgender rights and politics says the participation of New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard at the Tokyo Olympics might inspire other trans athletes but could also become a focus for conservative activists who oppose greater LGBTQ rights and freedoms.

Dr. Jami Taylor, professor of political science at the University of Toledo, said Hubbard might find herself in a no-win position even if she succeeds when she competes in the women’s 87-kilogram plus division.

Hubbard’s selection, which will make the 43-year-old New Zealander the first trans athlete to compete at an Olympics, has already drawn criticism from some conservative commentators.

“I suspect that we are going to see opponents of transgender rights frame the Hubbard situation in ways that further their own ends,” Taylor said in an email to The Associated Press. “I think they are going to have some success and I would not be shocked if the IOC and other sporting bodies end up tightening their policies if those polices were relatively permissive.

“In the U.S., that has and will continue to happen at the state level until we have some national level policy.”

Hubbard’s participation at Tokyo is a major milestone for transgender athletes and possibly an inspiration to others, Taylor said, but may also attract condemnation.

“I think it is likely that a backlash is building on this,” she said. “We see it in various states in the U.S.

“The International Olympic Committee has also noted that its policies on trans people participating are open to further review as more medical and scientific evidence emerges.”

Taylor said Hubbard is “now part of this body of evidence.”

“In some respects, Hubbard is in a no-win situation,” Taylor said. “If she medals, her performance will certainly be used by opponents to argue that trans women should be subject to greater restriction if not an outright ban.”

Hubbard rarely gives media interviews and tends to shun the spotlight. Inevitably, though, it follows her to each competition.

“In some respects, this is the best Olympic games for her to be at,” Taylor said. “The reduced crowd capacity and restrictions on yelling due to COVID-19 will limit the ability of fans to affect her performance by booing and yelling.”

“It will not just be fans though,” Taylor added. “I suspect that she is going to get a lot of hostile questions from reporters . . . especially from segments of the U.S. and U.K. media who have been on the warpath over trans women in sport.”

Some critics of inclusion argue that transgender women have intrinsic advantages of physiology and strength in some sports. Some female athletes have cited that in calling for Hubbard’s exclusion, and conservatives have amplified it.

Taylor, who teaches in areas including public policy and American politics and is a co-author of the book “The Remarkable Rise of Transgender Rights,” conceded that the inclusion of transgender women in sport involves complicated issues.

“Gender transition changes some but not all biological factors that may contribute to performance differences that exist on average between males and females,” Taylor said. “There is also the gender bias that may negatively affect sporting opportunity for many women and most trans women have not faced that.

“Regardless of that, societal averages don’t compete, individuals do. And their circumstances vary. Individuals also have rights.”

Hubbard, who won a silver medal at the 2017 world championships and gold in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, will be ranked fourth in the Olympic competition on Aug. 2.

She competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast but sustained a serious injury that set back her career.

“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 when her selection was announced earlier this week. “When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end. But your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”


More AP sports: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule looks on during an NFL preseason football game again...
Associated Press

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year contract as coach

Nebraska has signed Matt Rhule to an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next football coach, the school announced Saturday. The 47-year-old Rhule has been out of work for less than two months since getting fired by the Carolina Panthers. One of eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins but more than […]
1 day ago
Poland's Robert Lewandowski celebrates scoring his side's 2nd goal during the World Cup group C soc...
Associated Press

Lewandowski scores at World Cup, Poland beats Saudis 2-0

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Robert Lewandowski finally scored at the World Cup on Saturday, helping Poland beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 and boosting his team’s chances of reaching the knockout stages. Lewandowski shed tears after scoring in the 82nd minute. He raced toward the corner with his arms outstretched, then stayed slumped on the field […]
1 day ago
Laborers cheer at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket stadium in Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25,...
Associated Press

On outskirts of Doha, laborers watch World Cup they built

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Far from Doha’s luxury hotels and sprawling new World Cup stadiums, scores of South Asian workers poured into a cricket ground in the city’s sandy outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. Unlike the official FIFA fan zone near Doha’s pristine corniche, this one has no $14 beer or foreign […]
1 day ago
England's Jude Bellingham, centre, scores his side's opening goal during the World Cup group B socc...
Associated Press

World Cup analysts cite more goals from crosses, penalties

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — More crosses creating more goals. Winning penalties with “total genius” like Cristiano Ronaldo. Pressing opponents to quickly win back the ball. FIFA’s expert analysts picked their World Cup trends Saturday from the first 16 games after each team played once. What the Technical Study Group saw was more and better crosses […]
1 day ago
Iran's team players celebrate at the end of the World Cup group B soccer match between Wales and Ir...
Associated Press

Iran shuts out noise at World Cup but United States looms

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — After a World Cup start clouded by a disastrous loss and persistent questions about the civil unrest back home, Iran is celebrating the prospect of its first ever trip to the knockout stage. But first, Team Melli faces the United States. Iran defeated Wales 2-0 Friday and collected the three points […]
1 day ago
Brazil's Neymar, lies on the pitch as he receives first aid during the World Cup group G soccer mat...
Associated Press

Brazil with plenty of options to replace Neymar at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — With Neymar out for at least another match, Brazil coach Tite must now start thinking about a replacement — and this time he has plenty of options. Brazil is not as Neymar-dependent as it used to be, and Tite could go several different ways to replace the Paris Saint-Germain forward for […]
1 day ago
Expert: Transgender Olympic athlete could polarize opinion