A University of Pennsylvania women’s swimmer is smashing records and the competition; however, her presence is making waves beyond just the pool. Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer, has received backlash within the swimming and sports communities. Transgender presence in sports is very controversial for some Americans due to the genetic differences between men and women.
Lia Thomas’ History
Thomas previously competed as a man at UPenn for two full seasons, up until 2019. The NCAA has dictated that trans athletes must undergo one year of testosterone suppression before competing in women’s events. Now, as a senior, Thomas is competing with the women and performing extremely well.
Last weekend, at the University of Akron, she dominated the 500-yard freestyle preliminaries. In the finals she finished at 4:34.06, setting a new Ivy League record. In the 1650-yard freestyle, Thomas set another record and finished 38 seconds ahead of the closest competitor. At another race in the 200 free, Thomas gave another stellar performance for the Red and Blue, setting a meet and program record of 1:41.93, beating the runner-up by nearly seven seconds.
A teammate of Thomas at the UPenn women’s swim team anonymously spoke out about her presence in the sport. Speaking with Fox News’ Outkick, the anonymous student claims multiple members of the team have expressed their discontent with the situation to their coach, Mike Schnur.
The Penn athlete said “Pretty much everyone individually has spoken to our coaches about not liking this. Our coach just really likes winning. He’s like most coaches. I think secretly everyone just knows it’s the wrong thing to do.” She also shared that they valiantly support Lia in practice and competitions, but “it’s very fake.”
The anonymous source is confident Thomas could win the national championships in women’s swimming and potentially break women’s college records. Some of those records are currently held by Olympic gold medalists and icons Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin. In the 200, Thomas is 2 seconds behind Franklin’s record, about 10 seconds behind Ledecky’s 500, and 56 seconds behind Ledecky’s 1600. Thomas’ swimming records before her transition show a better time than Ledecky’s – and just fractions of a second behind Franklin’s.
A second teammate spoke up, despite being “strongly advised” by the Penn administration to avoid discussing the situation with the media. Outkick granted this second athlete anonymity as well as she shared that the team at Upenn is “angry” over the lack of fairness. The teammate shared that at the Akron Invitational, some swimmers were brought to tears, crying and upset, as they knew they had no chance of beating Thomas. She shared “they feel so discouraged because no matter how much work they put in it, they’re going to lose.”
Following an international backlash that has drawn comments from professional athletes, professors, and scholars, Thomas had an interview with the SwimSwam Podcast, sharing “I first realized I was trans the summer before, in 2018, there was a lot of uncertainty, I didn’t know what I would be able to do if I would be able to keep swimming.” She swam out the 2018-2019 season as a man, without coming out. She began her transition in May of 2019 starting with hormone replacement therapy. Following her year of testosterone suppression, she was approved to swim on the women’s side at the University of Pennsylvania.
Thomas’ mental health and self-confidence are much better after transitioning. Contradicting Outkick’s anonymous sources, Thomas said “the team has been unbelievably supportive since the beginning… I feel very supported. Just treated like any member of the women’s team.” In the interview, Thomas also shared, “Everyone is able to compete in the category they’re most comfortable with unless there’s proven unfair advantage that they have.”
Two sides of the Argument
The topic of transgenders in sports is much discussed in the United States. Texas and Florida recently banned transgender athletes from competing in female sports in public elementary, middle, and high schools. A national campaign has been supported by Republicans in 32 states. Their defense is the protection of fairness in competition.
Equal rights activists, on the other hand, argue there is no evidence that trans girls/women are dominating sports. Still, Alana McLaughlin, a transgender MMA fighter, accused Texas politicians of using trans kids as “scapegoats.” Journalist and broadcaster Piers Morgan accused Thomas of “destroying women’s sport” and described her participation as “cruel and discriminatory.”
Responses from the public have been mixed. Some transgender men and women believe transwomen do not belong in sports. Caitlyn Jenner, who formerly saw Olympic success as a male athlete, has said in the past, “This is a question of fairness. That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls’ sports in school. It just isn’t fair. And we have to protect girls’ sports in our schools.” Debbie Hayton, a transgender educator and journalist, wants to combat rushed transitions and has been labeled transphobic for holding the position that “transwomen are men. get over it.” Hayton does not support transwomen’s participation in women’s sports.
Transwomen have no business competing in women's sports.
No ifs; no buts; no exceptions. https://t.co/iGyddeO59A
— Debbie Hayton 🏳️⚧️🏳️🌈 (@DebbieHayton) December 8, 2021
~ Read more from Keelin Ferris