Record-breaking Canadian powerlifter April Hutchinson’s courageous personal story of overcoming alcoholism through the demanding sport of powerlifting is widely-known in powerlifting circles.
Hutchinson is now making headlines for her leadership in another tough battle. April is spearheading the effort to convince the public, and the sports authorities that set the rules for her sport, that men identifying as transgender women—people born male but who identify as female—have an inherent biological advantage over women, and that it is unfair to allow them to compete in women’s sports.
Think of April Hutchinson as Canada’s Riley Gaines, only on dry land. Gaines is the champion swimmer, who has spoken out against biological men in women’s swimming competitions. April was friendly with Anne Andres, who was born a male but competes as a woman, before it was generally known that Andres is transgender. He stunned April when he admitted in a Facebook conversation that he is a man. April recalls the conversation. “I said ‘You should not be competing against women.’ And he admitted that he has an advantage over females.
“Put aside the testosterone levels,” Hutchinson explains, “and men still have way more muscle mass, fast twitch fibers, V02 Max, everything, right? We’re talking like huge physiological differences.” According to the rules of the Canadian Powerlifting Union, male-to-female athletes do not have to make it public that they are trans. Nor are hormone therapy or surgical alteration requirements. All that is required is to claim to identify as female and show a corresponding government ID.
Hutchinson and Andres were scheduled to compete against each other in a national tournament in Vancouver last February. “I had been upset by what Andres had told me,” April recalls. “I lost a lot of sleep over it. I told my boyfriend, I told my coach, I told my closest friends. I knew that this was happening, but then it wasn’t until I saw his name on the roster for the national tournament in Vancouver that I thought, what the heck? He’s going to nationals? He’s going to take podium spots and Team Canada placements away from women? This couldn’t be happening. That’s when I said ‘I have to do something about this.’”
Instead of participating against Andres, whom she now knew to be a man, April decided to boycott the event. Hutchinson adds that some women didn’t even know they would be competing against a man at the Vancouver tournament. Hutchinson contacted the Independent Council on Women’s Sports (ICONS) and the International Consortium on Female Sport (ICFS) to help her. ICONS staged a silent protest at the Vancouver event Hutchinson boycotted. They dressed in black and held signs before the hotel manager booted them from the scene.
ICFS’s Linda Blade, a Canadian coach and coauthor of Unsporting: How Trans Activism and Science Denial Are Destroying Sport, became an ally of April’s. Blade and Hutchinson started a letter-writing campaign to convince the Canadian Powerlifting Union to change its policy on transgender athletes. Anyone who identifies as a woman can compete in women’s events under the current rules, with no hormonal or surgical treatment required. Hutchinson says the CPU ignored the protests but does seem to be giving Hutchinson’s allies a little more attention since she appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight and other media outlets.
Anne Andres stunned April when he admitted in a Facebook conversation that he is a man. April recalls the conversation. “I said ‘You should not be competing against women.’ And he admitted that he has an advantage over females.”
Although even casual observers of powerlifting might easily conclude that this is one sport in which it is glaringly self-evident that men have an advantage over women, the issue is controversial in the United States, too. The most famous male-to-female powerlifter in the U.S. is JayCee Cooper, who recently won a lawsuit against USA Powerlifting (USAPL). Cooper claimed that USAPL was not complying with the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s anti-discrimination provisions because it denied him the right to participate as a woman in the Women’s State Championship.
In a 46-page ruling, the judge found that “the USAPL’s evidence of competitive advantage does not take into account any competitive disadvantage a transgender athlete might face from, for example, increased risk of depression and suicide, lack of access to coaching and practice facilities, or other performance suppression common to transgender persons.” USA Powerlifting will comply but hasn’t ruled out challenging the ruling in court.
Andres has been powerlifting as a woman since 2019. He has won numerous medals, including a bronze medal for the 84+ kg bench press. But this record was cruelly snatched from Anne by—a man.
To dramatize the innate strength of men over women and the inherent unfairness of males in women’s sports, Coach Avi Silverberg competed against Andres for the title and won. Silverberg and April are casual friends. She says he decided to enter the competition with Andres to demonstrate how weak the rules regarding transgender-identifying athletes competing with women are. Despite his physical advantages, Andres insulted women in powerlifting. “Why is women’s bench so bad? I mean, not compared to me, we all know that I’m a tranny freak so that doesn’t count,” Andres asked on an Instagram video.
This isn’t April Hutchinson’s first life-changing battle.
“In September 2019, I was very sick,” Hutchinson once said in an interview. “My doctor basically gave me one to two years to live, if I didn’t change my lifestyle. I was addicted to alcohol; I was drinking on a daily basis.”
April Hutchinson is the daughter of a police officer, now retired. April’s mother, who died of cancer, was a stay-at-home mother while April was small and then had a career as a secretary. April was born in Toronto, always loved sports, did well in school, and planned to follow in her father’s steps as a police officer. Despite the excessive drinking, April was always able to hold down a job. But eventually, the drinking took over.
“I was what you call a functioning alcoholic for a number of years,” she says. “I had a job for 18 years as the surveillance agent at a casino—which was a great job, and it had a pension and benefits, really good pay, but towards the end of my drinking I was just so sick that I just couldn’t function basically, so I had to quit my job and go into rehab.”
ICFS’s Linda Blade, a Canadian coach and coauthor of Unsporting: How Trans Activism and Science Denial Are Destroying Sport, became an ally of April’s.
April is candid about this phase of her life. “I had tried to quit drinking so many times in the past,” she admits. “The insanity of the addiction is terrible, waking up every day and saying to myself ‘Okay, today I’m going to do it, I’m going to not drink, or I’m going to wean myself off of it.’ By four o’clock in the afternoon, I’d give up and say, ‘Well, I need booze.’ Like, my body would go through tremors and almost seizures because I didn’t have alcohol. Alcohol was basically my medicine. I needed it every day to survive. I felt hopeless.”
“I don’t know if you know a lot of people with addictions,” she continues, “but sometimes life seems very hopeless. I ended up trying to kill myself. I was very suicidal and I drank a lot of alcohol and took some pills and I ended up surviving, obviously. I ended up in the ICU unit on a breathing tube, and I woke up, and I was sitting there, I was so stunned and I remember thinking ‘Oh my God, here’s my time. Am I going to live or am I going to die? I have to make that choice, right?’ So, I came out and I entered into a Westover rehab facility. I’ve been sober ever since. I’ll have four years coming up in September.”
Powerlifting is a big part of April’s sober life. Even if she weren’t powerlifting, however, she would still be engaged in this battle. “I get it that some people disagree with me,” she says. “There are people who belong to the LGBTQ community, and they want to support inclusivity. Someone might have a grandkid that’s transgender. They might not support my side, and I get that. That’s fine. But at the end of the day, a biological man competing against a biological female is wrong.
“Sometimes people are afraid to speak out,” says April. “They’re afraid they’ll get canceled or silenced or labeled transphobic. I don’t care what you call me, I am standing up for women’s rights because that’s what’s been lost. People are so focused on trans rights that women’s rights have been put on the back burner, and these are rights women have been fighting for a long time. I’m fighting for fairness in sports.”