News, Culture & Society

Laurel Hubbard Tokyo Olympics: Petition calling for rule change removed as ‘hate speech’

A petition calling on the Olympic Committee to put an end to transgender athletes competing in women’s divisions has been quietly shelved as ‘hate speech’ ahead of her games debut.

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became the face of the petition after she was selected to compete in the +87kg women’s weight division at the Tokyo Games.

More than 30,000 people signed the petition, which argued Hubbard’s inclusion in the division put her competitors at a significant disadvantage.

The 43-year-old will take to the world stage on Monday night, where she is tipped to to take home the silver medal, behind China’s Li Wenwen. 

Hubbard transitioned from male to female in 2012, when she was 35 years old and after decades of competing in men’s weightlifting competitions.

Daily Mail Australia revealed she captained her high school team to glory at Auckland’s exclusive Saint Kentigern Boys’ College in 1994, prompting thousands of readers to argue her inclusion in the female division was distinctly unfair. 

She said she first took up the ‘archetypally male’ sport of weightlifting in an attempt to feel more masculine, but that ‘wasn’t the case’ 

More than 30,000 people have signed a petition stating the rules which allowed Hubbard to qualify as a woman - namely that her testosterone levels are below the qualifying amount and that she identifies as a woman - are not fair and should be scrapped

More than 30,000 people have signed a petition stating the rules which allowed Hubbard to qualify as a woman – namely that her testosterone levels are below the qualifying amount and that she identifies as a woman – are not fair and should be scrapped

Laurel Hubbard, 43, was pictured on Saturday morning warming up and practicing her lifts under the watchful eyes of her coaches

Laurel Hubbard, 43, was pictured on Saturday morning warming up and practicing her lifts under the watchful eyes of her coaches

Poll

Should Laurel Hubbard compete in the female weightlifting division at the Olympics?

  • YES 166 votes
  • NO 4940 votes

Hubbard came first in the 99kg over 16s Junior National Championships and second in the 108kg weight division at the Northern Region Secondary School Championships. 

Despite her high school team’s overall success, Hubbard’s individual results in junior male competitions would never have been enough to qualify for a position on the men’s senior national team. 

Her high school 1994 yearbook reveals Hubbard was named only as a non travelling reserve for an international team which would represent New Zealand in Australia later that year.

‘So many women feel betrayed,’ a woman who knew Laurel when she was competing in male divisions said. 

As the online campaign continued to gain traction, it was quietly removed from the webpage.

The woman behind the petition was notified via email of the decision. 

‘It was flagged as hate speech,’ a spokeswoman for ‘Defend Women’s Sport’ said.

She has since tried to have the petition reinstated, but is yet to receive a response from change.org.  

Laurel just before she transitioned at 35 years old. Pictured (right) with her parents, including former Auckland Mayor Richard 'Dick' Hubbard' (centre)

Laurel just before she transitioned at 35 years old. Pictured (right) with her parents, including former Auckland Mayor Richard ‘Dick’ Hubbard’ (centre)

The professional weightlifter will make history by becoming the first transgender woman to compete at the Olympics at this year's Tokyo games

The professional weightlifter will make history by becoming the first transgender woman to compete at the Olympics at this year’s Tokyo games

Daily Mail Australia revealed she captained her high school team to glory at Auckland's exclusive Saint Kentigern Boys' College in 1994, prompting thousands of readers to argue her inclusion in the female division was distinctly unfair

Daily Mail Australia revealed she captained her high school team to glory at Auckland’s exclusive Saint Kentigern Boys’ College in 1994, prompting thousands of readers to argue her inclusion in the female division was distinctly unfair

The petition called the International Olympic Committee to reconsider the rules which allowed Hubbard to gain entry into the women’s division in the first place.

As long as Hubbard’s testosterone levels remain below the qualifying amount and she identifies as a woman, she is within regulations to compete.

But the petition argued this policy ignores several other crucial factors and should be reconsidered moving forward. 

‘This completely ignores the physical advantages in speed, height, stamina and strength that a male-born athlete will have,’ the petition read.

‘Women were not consulted and did not consent to this policy which will make a complete mockery of their sport.’  

Hubbard will compete for Olympic glory on Monday, and is backed to win silver at $3.75.

China’s Li Wenwen is expected to take home the gold. 

Hubbard was pictured on Saturday morning warming up and practicing her lifts under the watchful eyes of her coaches.  

Hubbard (pictured post-transition) rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had 'blocked out' criticism

Hubbard (pictured post-transition) rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had ‘blocked out’ criticism 

Laurel Hubbard (circled, as Gavin) transitioned from a man to a woman in 2012 at 35, after training and competing in male weightlifting competitions since she was a teenager

Laurel Hubbard (circled, as Gavin) transitioned from a man to a woman in 2012 at 35, after training and competing in male weightlifting competitions since she was a teenager

How Hubbard was eligible to be selected for the women’s team 

Laurel Hubbard’s inclusion in the Tokyo games has divided the public, with many arguing that it is unfair given she went through puberty as a male.

But the International Olympic Committee overhauled transgender athlete guidelines in 2015, meaning competitors who have transitioned from male to female can compete in the female category without undergoing complete surgery – provided their testosterone levels are kept below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.

Hubbard well and truly exceeded those guidelines. 

New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive, Kereyn Smith said while it was true Hubbard met the eligibility criteria, she said it was understandable that there was a debate between fairness and inclusion. 

‘We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play,’ she said.  

Pictured: The results of a poll conducted by Daily Mail Australia

Belgium’s Anna Van Bellinghen, who is expected to compete against Hubbard, said the entire situation seems ‘like a bad joke’.  

‘I am aware that defining a legal frame for transgender participation in sports is very difficult since there is an infinite variety of situations and that reaching an entirely satisfactory solution, from either side of the debate, is probably impossible,’ Van Bellinghen 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.’ 

A poll conducted by Daily Mail Australia revealed 97 per cent of participants – 4,332 readers – thought it was unfair that Hubbard had taken the place of another female athlete in the competition. 

Just 145 votes supported the action. 

Those in favour argued she is within the rules of the sport, therefore should be welcomed in the competition.

‘Laurel Hubbard has NOT broken any rules set out by the governance of sport,’ one supporter said. ‘[She] is a fully transitioned transsexual. She is according to the rules.’  

Hubbard understands that her selection will be divisive and a point of contention heading into the Olympic games

Hubbard understands that her selection will be divisive and a point of contention heading into the Olympic games

The 43-year-old is one of the top female weightlifters in New Zealand, and was among the first selected to represent the nation in Tokyo.

Hubbard understands that her selection will be divisive and a point of contention heading into the Olympic games. 

‘When [people] are shown something that may be new and different to what they know, it’s instinctive to be defensive,’ she said during her last known interview in 2017.

‘It’s not really my job to change what they think, what they feel and what they believe. I just hope they look at the bigger picture, rather than just trusting whatever their gut may have told them.’

‘I’m just me.’    

Students from her 1994 graduating class remember her only as ‘Gavin’ – an academic and quiet student who spent most of his days training in the gym at their $22,000-a-year school.

Since transitioning to Laurel, Hubbard has maintained that she wants privacy and rarely gives media interviews. Pictured at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018

Since transitioning to Laurel, Hubbard has maintained that she wants privacy and rarely gives media interviews. Pictured at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018

The incredibly-private weightlifter was shy and awkward even then, before turning into a recluse after graduation and reappearing more than a decade later as Laurel, an athlete dominating in her new female division. 

‘I can’t remember Gavin having too many friends at school. He never really seemed to fit in,’ one peer told Daily Mail Australia. 

Saint Kentigern – now a co-ed school – boasts dozens of alumni who have gone on to excel in their chosen sporting fields. 

Laurel Hubbard (pictured before her transition) will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics

Laurel Hubbard (pictured before her transition) will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics

The college has dominated tennis, golf, rugby, cycling and triathlon competitions for the last decade 

Former students have gone on to play for New Zealand’s national rugby union team, the All Blacks, while others have been recognised for their efforts across the ditch in Australia playing rugby league.

Saint Kentigerns never publicly acknowledged Hubbard’s attendance at the school, but a spokeswoman wished her well for the Olympics when contacted by Daily Mail Australia. 

‘Over the course of 60 years, the Saint Kentigern community has remained deeply respectful of its heritage, staying true to its founding Christian principles and Scottish heritage,’ the school’s webpage reads.

The spokeswoman said: ‘As with all our former students who have gone onto Olympic selection, we wish Laurel the very best for her competition.’  

After graduating in 1994, Hubbard fell off the grid. By 2004 his father, Richard ‘Dick’ Hubbard, had been elected Mayor of Auckland.

Richard Hubbard founded Hubbard Foods and is considered the ‘Messiah of Muesli’ in New Zealand for his dominance in the breakfast cereal market.

Since transitioning to Laurel, Hubbard has maintained that she wants privacy and rarely gives media interviews.

She said she first took up the ‘archetypally male’ sport of weightlifting in an attempt to feel more masculine as she struggled with her identity, but that ‘wasn’t the case’.  

Life and career of Laurel Hubbard

1978 – Born Gavin Hubbard in 1978

1998 – Set junior record in the 105+ category with a total lift of 300kg 

2001 – Stopped weightlifting due to personal issues

2012 – Began to transition as a transgender woman 

2017 – Set Oceania record for snatch 131kg at the North Island Games in NZ, competing as a woman

2017 – Won silver in 90kg class at world championships in the United States 

2018 – Suffered serious elbow injury at Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast

2018 – Pleaded guilty to careless driving causing injury after 2018 accident which left Australian driver with spinal injuries. 

2019 – Set the Oceania women’s clean & jerk record of 154kg at the world championships in Thailand   

2019 – Won two golds at the Pacific Games, in the 87kg snatch and 87kg overall

2020 – Won two golds at the Roma World Cup competition 

2020 – Set the Oceania record for the snatch of 133kg at the Australian Open in Canberra

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk