James Kirkup James Kirkup

Is it fair for Laurel Hubbard to compete against women?

Laurel Hubbard (Getty images)

Today, the conversation about transgender rights and the interests of women turns to sport. At the Olympic Games, Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand, will compete in the +87kg women’s weightlifting.

Hubbard, as you surely know, was born male and grew up to become a competitive weightlifter. At the age of 33, the athlete then transitioned and became a trans woman. And because the International Olympic Committee effectively signs up to the mantra of trans rights – ‘Trans women are women’ – Hubbard can duly compete in the women’s contest in Tokyo.

To a lot of people, the prospect of a male-born weightlifter competing with biological women calls to mind a line from George Orwell: 

‘One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.’*

Sport might well be the aspect of the trans debate that sparks the greatest public engagement with the issue. I write about this stuff a lot, because I think it’s important for several reasons, but I’m under no illusions about its place in the public priority list. Most people don’t know much about the sex and gender question, and don’t really have strong feelings on it either. Politically, this is a marginal issue for the majority of UK voters.

Some of that is because the instances where trans rights and women’s interests collide are often not ones that interest the wider public. Prisons policy is a good example. It’s clear, and confirmed by a recent court judgement, that policies meant to promote the interests of trans women inmates impose a cost on female inmates.

But most voters don’t care what goes on in prisons, so the conflict of rights involved in ‘trans women are women’ passes them by.

Is it fair for male-born people to compete in sporting events against female-born people?

If anything is going to change that, it will be sport.

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