If there’s one point of hysteria Republicans have gathered behind in 2021, it’s the hateful mission to keep trans girls out of sports. Lawmakers have used a number of thinly veiled arguments to cover up their transphobia, arguing that banning trans girls from competing in girls’ sports is about protecting [cisgender] girls and keeping things “fair.” In reality, of course, trans girls are girls and thus deserve to be on the girls' team. That is what is fair, not discrimination that separates and isolates some of the most vulnerable young people to.
At this point, a number of Republican governors have signed bills into law that seek to keep trans girls out of girls’ sports teams. Some laws start as young as kindergarten, while others focus on high school and college-level sports. Given the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, you might be wondering if any trans folks were allowed to compete and how they fared, especially given the Republican insistence that trans girls would inherently demolish the cisgender competition. Let’s look at some history makers, including Laurel Hubbard and Quinn, below.
Laurel Hubbard, an openly trans athlete from New Zealand, made history by becoming the first openly trans woman to compete in the Olympics. Hubbard, a weightlifter, did not advance to the final after struggling to lift 275 pounds above her head.
After competing, Hubbard addressed the ongoing backlash to her participation in the games, saying, as reported by NPR, “I am not entirely unaware of the controversy which surrounds my participation at these Games.” She then thanked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for “really affirming its commitment to the principles of Olympism and establishing that sport is something for all people. It is inclusive, accessible."
As some background, the IOC issued guidelines in 2015 that allowed women to compete in women’s events based on certain testosterone levels. Specifically, their testosterone levels must fall below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least one year before the first competition. Now, while this means Hubbard would have been eligible to compete since then, this doesn’t mean the guidelines are actually fair to everyone, including cisgender women, especially when we consider the treatment of some Black athletes, like Caster Semenya.
Hubbard, ultimately, wants to be an athlete. In speaking to The New York Times, she stressed that the attention wasn’t what she was after. She told reporters she didn’t think her participation in the games “should be historic,” adding that, “As we move into a new and more understanding world, people are starting to realize that people like me are just people. We are human, and as such I hope that just by being here is enough.”
Hubbard made it clear she doesn’t want to be a role model, and instead wants her privacy and to focus on her sport. Weightlifting, she shared, was a love of hers when she was in her twenties, but she stepped away as she figured out her identity. The 43-year-old did tell reporters, however, that she hopes “just by being here, I can provide some sense of encouragement.”
Quinn, who goes by one name and uses they/them pronouns, will be the first openly non-binary trans athlete to medal in the Olympics. Quinn is a Canadian women’s soccer midfielder who, at this point, is essentially guaranteed a medal after Canada defeated the U.S. in the semifinals on Monday. On Friday, Canada will face Sweden to determine who brings home the gold medal.
In speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. after the team’s victory, Quinn explained they were “getting messages from young people saying they’ve never seen a trans person in sports before.” Quinn expressed their love for sports and stressed that “If I can allow kids to play the sports they love, that’s my legacy and that’s what I’m here for.”
In a post shared to their Instagram, Quinn described feeling “optimistic for change” and specified they look forward to changes in legislature, rules, structures, and mindsets. “Mostly,” they wrote. “I feel aware of the realities. Trans girls being banned from sports. Trans women facing discrimination and bias while trying to pursue their Olympic dreams. The fight isn’t close to over… and I’ll celebrate when we’re all here.”
Two other openly trans people are at the Olympics this summer, with Alana Smith, who uses they/them pronouns, representing the United States in women’s street skateboarding, and Chelsea Wolfe, also representing the United States, as an alternate in women’s BMX freestyle.