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Trans Woman Beat by Trans Man – Is the Debate Now Over for NBC?

Can a couple of competitions close the conversation on transgender athletes?

Lia Thomas, a male-to-female transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, has caused her fair share of controversy and debate in the sports community this season. Some say trans females like Thomas have an unfair advantage over biological, or cisgender, women thanks to years of testosterone-driven development. Others, however, argue that simply isn’t true. While she certainly started strong, Thomas hasn’t gone undefeated. And while she lost to Yale’s female-to-male trans swimmer, Iszac Henig, that loss may have been a win for her side of the argument. Trans woman beat by trans man: all the evidence necessary to end the debate on the fairness of transgenders in women’s sports? For NBC, perhaps it is.

Is There a Scientific Advantage?

On a recent episode of Hallie Jackson NOW, NBC Out reporter Jo Yurcaba joined the NBC News senior Washington correspondent to discuss the stimulating conversation around Lia Thomas. Yurcaba laid out the opinions of various sides and the multiple layers of these arguments, including fairness, science, and human rights. Many argue transgender women transitioning after puberty have an advantage over biological females because of the higher levels of testosterone. For the most part, those supporting this position point to biology and science. However, the NBC Out reporter said their scientific support is minimal.

Yurcaba stated that “you have folks who say there is very little scientific evidence that shows those advantages carry over for trans women after transition.” Although they did not cite who the “folks” were or explain the “little scientific evidence,” they did recognize that the opposing views on “fairness and human rights” are present. To Yurcaba, this conversation is not solely about transgender participation in sports – it’s about inclusion in society in general.

If what the NBC reporter implies – that there’s no lingering benefit granted by years of testosterone during physical development – it could be groundbreaking for fairness in women’s sports. However, there is a difference between little evidence supporting a position and a lot of evidence against it. The only way to get definitive answers is through thorough research and testing and determining whether or not transgender women hold a physical advantage over biological women even after transitioning.

Support From the Ivy League

Last week, both the University of Pennsylvania and the Ivy League released statements affirming Thomas’s support and participation. Her university said it is “committed to being a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our student-athletes, coaches, and staff.”

The league took a stand against the backlash and transphobia, expressing its “unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form.” The NCAA, Penn, Lia, and the league have all allegedly been working together to follow appropriate protocols “in order to comply with the NCAA policy on transgender athlete participation.”

The statements released by UPenn and the Ivy League come after parents of ten swimmers sent the NCAA a letter on December 5. They shared their concerns over “the integrity of women’s sports” and demanded a rule change and a response from the governing body. They condemned the NCAA for its “unfair and irresponsible” lack of action or statement. They shared their concerns for Lia and her treatment by the media and the need for her and her coaches, teammates, and school to speak out on the matter when it is the NCAA’s responsibility.

Thomas Loses to Trans Man

GettyImages-1363656660 Lia Thomas

Lia Thomas (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

With the immense attention Lia Thomas has received, it may feel like she is the only transgender athlete at the Division 1 level. Yale University’s Iszac Henig, who is transitioning from female to male, squared up against Thomas in the 100m freestyle this season. Henig beat Thomas, finishing more than three seconds faster.

At a recent meet between Yale, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Henig won three of his races, taking down Thomas in two of them. After coming out to his teammates and coaches, the Yale athlete put off hormone therapy because he wanted to compete in the pool and maintain his eligibility on the squad. Henig did, however, have his breasts removed before the season.

At the competition, a parent anonymously spoke with The Daily Mail, saying, “I wasn’t prepared for that,” referring to Iszac Henig pulling down the top of his swimsuit following a victory. “Everything is so messed up. I can’t wrap my head around this. The NCAA needs to do something about this. They need to put science into the decision and discussion.” Henig and Thomas are expected to meet again in the pool for the Ivy League championship in February.

~ Read more from Keelin Ferris.

Read More From Keelin Ferris

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