From setting NCAA records to taking home gold at the Olympics, these trans athletes are making themselves known.
Transgender athletes are not a new phenomenon. Yet, although trans people have almost certainly competed in sports over the past thousands of years, the modern history of elite trans athletes began with Renée Richards in the 1970s.
Richards, an ophthalmologist and professional tennis player, had long competed against men at a high level. After her transition, she wanted to keep playing, this time against fellow women. However, officials denied her entry to the 1976 U.S. Open. Richards sued and won, earning the right to compete at the tournament in 1977.
Like trans athletes today, Richards had both strong supporters and detractors. Many people saw the discrimination she faced and helped her combat it.
Still, many others attempted to ban her from women’s competitions. They accused her of having a biological advantage and made her undergo intensive testing to determine whether she was “woman enough” to compete.
In the years since, the challenges facing trans athletes have shifted, but they haven’t disappeared. State lawmakers are barring transgender youth from sports. Athletes have signed petitions stating that trans women athletes have unfair advantages.
Sports organizations have been working on setting fair rules for when trans athletes can compete, with requirements ranging from maintaining certain hormone levels to having surgery on their genitals to — for some trans male athletes in particular — nothing at all.
Understanding of how being transgender, particularly a trans woman, affects an athlete’s play is still evolving. But in the meantime, trans athletes are training alongside their cisgender peers — with the extra burden of having to overcome the transphobia they face from the media, public, and people in their personal lives.
They have done so to great results, from smashing records in NCAA Division I sports to winning Olympic gold medals — and inspiring the next generation of trans athletes in the process.
Here are 10 transgender athletes to watch, today.
Timothy LeDuc became the first openly nonbinary person to compete at the Winter Olympics in 2022 when they placed eighth in pairs figure skating with their partner Ashley Cain-Gribble.
This isn’t LeDuc’s first “first.” In 2019, they became the first openly queer person to win gold in pairs skating at the U.S. Championship. Together, LeDuc and Cain-Gribble have won two U.S. championships and medaled in the Grand Prix Series three times.
LeDuc has spoken out about resisting the cis-normativity and heteronormativity historically seen and expected in pairs skating, for example, by not portraying a romantic couple in their skating routines with Cain-Gribble.
New Zealander Laurel Hubbard made her Olympic debut in weightlifting at the 2020 Summer Olympics. She was the first openly transgender woman to compete at the Olympics and the first openly trans athlete to compete at an individual event in the Summer Olympics.
Her inclusion in the women’s +87kg group was controversial, throwing her in the spotlight, despite three other trans athletes competing in the 2020 Summer Games. Ultimately, Hubbard did not earn a spot on the podium, and her official result was “did not finish” after she was unable to complete a clean lift in the snatch section of the competition.
Hubbard’s weightlifting career has long been notable. Before her transition, she set a men’s national junior record, but she left the sport in her 20s because it was “too much to bear” as she figured out her identity.
After a 15-year break from the sport, Hubbard returned to set a women’s Oceania record at the 2017 North Island Games, then a gold at the Australian Championships and a silver at the World Championships.
In 2018, Hubbard suffered a nearly career-ending injury: a ruptured ligament in her arm. However, she continued competing in 2019, winning two gold medals at the 2019 Pacific Games, then lifting at the 2020 Summer Olympics at age 43 — 10 years older than the next oldest competitor in her group.
Chris Mosier, a trans man, became the first transgender athlete to represent the United States in an international competition after earning a spot at the men’s sprint duathlon in 2015. Mosier is a hall of fame triathlete, All-American duathlete, two-time National Champion, and he has made Team USA six times.
Mosier is also a powerful advocate for transgender athletes. He is credited with prompting the International Olympic Committee to change their rules in 2016 to be more inclusive of trans competitors, leaving no restrictions for trans men to compete with other men and dropping the requirement that trans women undergo genital surgery.
Mosier runs transathlete.com, through which he provides information about competing in sports as a trans person, including competition policies at various levels in various sports.
Quinn, who plays both a central defender and a midfielder, had previously competed in the 2019 World Cup and won bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games, but they hadn’t yet come out at that time.
Chelsea Wolfe, a trans woman, is the third-ranked BMX freestyler in the United States. She earned a spot as an alternate for the women’s competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics — the first time the sport was included in the Olympic Games — by winning fifth place at the World Championships in 2021.
Wolfe didn’t get to compete at the Olympics, but she did become the first out trans person to make Team USA. She had just started to compete nationally in 2016 when it was announced that the sport would be added to the 2020 Olympics.
Nonbinary athlete Alana Smith competed in the inaugural women’s street skateboarding event at the 2020 Summer Olympics. They came out shortly before the Summer Games, wanting to enter the competition as their full authentic self.
Smith has also competed at four World Championships and won the bronze medal in 2015. They’ve been a big name in skateboarding since they were just 12 years old, when they won silver at the 2013 X Games.
Layshia Clarendon, a guard for the Minnesota Lynx who uses all pronouns, is the first openly transgender and nonbinary player to compete in the WNBA. They won a gold medal at the 2018 FIBA World Cup, and Clarendon won the WNBA Community Assist Award in 2021 for her advocacy work for Black and brown youth and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Clarendon previously played for the University of California, Berkeley, and he finished his college career as the fourth highest scorer in Cal’s history, earning 1,820 points across four seasons.
Kye Allums became the first openly trans person to compete in an NCAA Division I sport when he came out as a trans man while playing basketball for the George Washington University’s women’s team in 2010.
Allums, a guard, played a total of three seasons, ending his college basketball career in 2011 after a string of concussions. In 2015, he was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
Allums is a public speaker and mentor to LGBTQIA+ youth, and he was featured in “The T Word,” a documentary by Laverne Cox about living as a young trans person.
Schuyler Bailar, a trans man, was the first openly trans NCAA Division I athlete to compete on a men’s team. He swam for Harvard’s men’s team for four seasons before graduating in 2019, and his last swim placed him in the top 15 percent of NCAA competitors in his event.
Bailar had an impressive career before college, too, competing in the Junior Olympics at age 10 and ranking in the top 20 for 15-year-old breaststroke swimmers in the United States.
He is an international speaker and advocate who posts on social media about body image, racism, and, of course, transgender inclusion in sports.
“People are attacking trans kids,” he says about the recent wave of bills banning transgender children from sports. “It doesn’t even matter whether or not they have these competitive differences or whatever; these are kids.
“I think people forget that, and they dehumanize and adultify these children as if they’re these threats to women’s sport, but they’re not. They’re just kids. Just kids who want to play soccer. They’re just kids who want to run around the track.”
A senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Lia Thomas, a trans woman and NCAA Division I freestyle swimmer, holds the fastest women’s times of the 2022 season in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events. In March, she competed at the NCAA championships in these and the 1,650-yard event.
Thomas swam on Penn’s men’s team for 2 years before coming out and getting approved by the NCAA to compete with women during summer 2020. However, the following season was canceled due to the pandemic, so this season is her first time competing against women.
Because she has excelled in swimming, Thomas has come under fire, prompting the NCAA to change their rules about trans women’s eligibility in all sports.
Although 16 members of Penn’s team wrote a letter stating that it’s unfair for Thomas to compete as a woman, 310 current and former NCAA, Team USA, and international swimmers and divers recently signed a letter in support of her.
At the NCAA championships, Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle event, making her the first out trans woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. She also finished fifth in the 200-yard finals and eighth in the 100-yard event.
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