This year, the Summer Games have challenged the norm, sparking conversations about mental health, sexism, and identity. And Monday morning (EST), the norm was challenged again.
Forty-three-year-old weight-lifter Laurel Hubbard was the first openly transgender athlete to compete on the world stage. While she fell short of a podium finish, failing to complete her lifts, her representation in Japan 2020 speaks volumes.
“A door has essentially been open for me,” said Amber Desjardins.
Desjardins is a wheelchair racer. Her goal is to compete in the Paralympics in the next few years. And with Hubbard breaking barriers on the world stage, Desjardins says she feels even more empowered to compete.
“We love sports. We love doing what we’re doing. But it’s the backlash that we get that stops a lot of trans people from going to that elite level,” said Desjardins.
That backlash includes scathing messages online. She says she has received comments on Facebook posts that misgender and ostracize her. “Men who call themselves women need to stop competing in women’s sports,” one comment read.
“Many people will complain about transgender athletes, particularly transgender women,” said trans-athlete Roxy Bombardier. “They conveniently ignore the fact that someone who is 7 and a half feet tall is not barred from playing basketball, let’s say, or Andre the Giant in wrestling…people with their own genetic advantages from birth. It’s only around trans folk and that tends to get people fired up.”
Bombardier has dedicated more than 30 years to mountain and gravel bike racing in Vermont. This past weekend, she competed in Rooted Vermont, an 82-mile course with 8,000 feet of climbing.
“I am very pleased to see transgender folks achieving and winning and making these headlines and increasing our visibility because that is what helps us,” said Bombardier.
Outright Vermont, a Burlington-based organization, supports LGBTQ+ youth. Executive Director Dana Kaplan says Hubbard competing in the Olympics shift the binary. He said in a statement:
“So much of what makes living difficult for trans people is having to navigate a world that’s so deeply binary. Our identities as trans people are either hyper-focused on, to the point of denying our ability to be anything but that, or conversely, we are rendered invisible, denied access, and told we don’t exist,” said Kaplan. Laura Hubbard is on a national stage showing young people that you can be transgender AND an athlete, and there is room for ALL of you.”
Desjardin says she is thrilled to see identities like her own represented at the Olympics. She and Roxy plan to push past the negative, anti-trans comments and continue to train for their upcoming races.
“Representation means everything for our community and just seeing one person, even if it’s Laurel Hubbard…that’s huge,” said Desjardin.