The Boston Marathon will welcome five transgender women in its race on April 16 for the first time ever. Organizers say they will allow any runner to compete under their self-identified gender.
The decision has sparked controversy within the road-racing community, some of whom believe female trans runners have an inherent advantage over their rivals, including vital increased levels of stamina.
“We take people at their word. We register people as they specify themselves to be,” said Tom Grilk, chief of the Boston Athletic Association, the group behind the race, the Boston Herald reported.
“Members of the LGBT community have had a lot to deal with over the years, and we’d rather not add to that burden.”
Founded in 1897, the Boston Marathon is the oldest annual race in the world, and one of the most prestigious meetings in the marathon calendar; the 42.2km race attracted over 30,000 participants in 2015.
Bob Girandola, associate professor in the Department of Human Biology at the University of Southern California, observed that if transgender runners produce higher levels of testosterone than their female competitors, that’s an issue.
“If they still have male gonads, they will have an advantage over other women – there is no way around that,” he said. “It gives them an unfair advantage. Maybe they have to have a separate category if they’re going to do that. It’s a dilemma.”
However, others argue that women undergoing hormone treatment therapy suffer side-effects such as sluggishness, dehydration and reduced stamina, and therefore gain no athletic advantage.
“That’s a misconception and a myth,” said Dr Alex Keuroghlian, director of education and training programs at the Fenway Institute, a health and advocacy center for Boston’s LGBT community. “There’s no physiologic advantage to being assigned male at birth.”
One male-born runner planning to participate in Boston legally changed gender and began living openly as a woman, but isn’t undergoing hormone treatment. Stevie Romer, from Illinois, registered to run as a woman “because that’s what she is.”
Another female transgender athlete to make headlines recently is weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, whose participation at the 2018 Commonwealth Games was opposed by critics who said she had a natural advantage over other competitors.
Hubbard, who was favorite for gold in the women’s 90kg-plus, suffered an elbow injury while attempting a Commonwealth record 132 kg lift. The weightlifter, whose birth name is Gavin, competed as a man in international weightlifting competitions until 2014 before undergoing gender reassignment.