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Transgender woman wins female world cycling championship amidst controversies of cheating and fairness

A Canadian cyclist, has recently become the first transgender woman to win a gold medal following her race at the UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championship. Dr. Rachel McKinnon is a native of Victoria, B.C, and placed first in the women’s 35-44 age bracket in Los Angeles last Sunday. She was born biologically a male.

She tweeted a photo of herself on the podium next to the silver and bronze finishers, Carolien Van Herrikhuyzen of the Netherlands and Jennifer Wagner of the U.S.

Her caption read:

First transgender woman world champion…ever*”

Before her gold medal finish in the final, McKinnon had set a world record in the quarterfinals, completing the 200m in 11.92s (although it was beaten by 0.0031 s around 10 minutes later). McKinnon says she is dedicated to cycling, training 15-20 hours a week.

It has been a longstanding controversy whether international competitions should allow transgender women to compete in women’s events. The International Olympic Committee rules that naturally occurring testosterone in transgender women give them an unfair advantage against biologically-born females. Given her transgender background, McKinnon has been required by competition regulators to keep her testosterone levels “unhealthily low” in order to qualify for the competition. She has argued that testosterone suppression in biological males who identify as transgender women is a human rights violation.

Many were keen to note McKinnon’s success as particularly noteworthy given her suppressed testosterone levels, describing it as an unfair obstacle she had to overcome. In addition, many saw her triumph as a step forward for transgender women to be fully recognized and respected in today’s society.

However, the praise has not been universal. Many people on social media have accused McKinnon of cheating and fraud, claiming her presence in the competition is unfair to cisgender women (i.e. women who identified with the gender they were assigned at birth). One twitter user even compared it to a parent beating their 8-year old child in a game of tag.

An assistant professor of transgender issues herself, McKinnon posted a lecture on YouTube to rebut those critics citing ethics and fairness as a substantial reasons to remove her from female competitions.

“We cannot have a woman legally recognized as a trans woman in society, and not be recognized that way in sports. Focusing on performance advantage is largely irrelevant because this is a rights issue. We shouldn’t be worried about trans people taking over the Olympics. We should be worried about their fairness and human rights instead.”

In a recent article in USA today, she argued that this is not a matter of ‘fairness’ or ‘cheating’, since a number of precautionary measures have been taken to alleviate such possibilities. To her, this is an issue of human rights.

“This is bigger than sports and it’s about human rights,”, McKinnon told USA Today, “By catering to cisgender people’s views, that furthers transgender people’s oppression. When it comes to extending rights to a minority population, why would we ask the majority? I bet a lot of white people were pissed off when we desegregated sports racially and allowed black people. But they had to deal with it.”

Last year, the UCI reviewed its policy on transgender athletes after another Canadian cyclist, Kristen Worley, won a case on similar human rights claims. Cycling Canada, the Ontario Cycling Association, and the UCI have all agreed to modify their policies to be more trans-inclusive.

Rachel McKinnon is an avid transgender activist, and often posts lectures and videos about the topic.