Lia Thomas, the collegiate swimmer who believes he is a woman, won two more races for the University of Pennsylvania in a dual meet against Harvard on Saturday, January 22. Harvard won the women’s dual 187-113.

Thomas, who has male DNA, was born male, went through male puberty and has a male body, won both the women’s 100- and 200-yard freestyle races.

CNN wrote about the event, saying, “Now Thomas is being hailed as one of the best women’s collegiate swimmers in the country, with her rapid success prompting both praise and criticism in the swimming world.”

NBC Out reported, “Ivy League swimming champion becomes target of transphobic rhetoric,” explaining that “transgender” activists were upset with some of the media coverage of Thomas. The story pointed to outlets that used male pronouns or showed pictures of Thomas when he participated on UPenn’s men’s swim team, before starting testosterone suppression and taking estrogen in 2019 and shifting to the women’s team last year.

NBC Out said:

Transgender advocates have condemned that coverage and some of the conversation about Thomas as transphobic. They said it mischaracterizes her victories to make it appear that transgender women are cheating just by being trans and implies that one trans woman winning means trans women generally are dominating women’s sports. They note that Thomas is competing within guidance issued by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

But that guidance from the NCAA is changing – possibly due to the outcry over Thomas’ wins. Last week, its board of governors released a new policy statement, saying that it “voted in support of a sport-by-sport approach to transgender participation that preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

That means that USA Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, will set the standards for allowing men who think they are women to compete in women’s swimming. USA Swimming responded to the NCAA statement and said:  

USA Swimming firmly believes in inclusivity and the opportunity for all athletes to experience the sport of swimming in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression. We also strongly believe in competitive equity, and, like many, are doing our best to learn and educate ourselves on the appropriate balance in this space.    

The organization said it was working with the Fédération internationale de natation (FINA, in English: International Swimming Federation) to develop a policy for elite-level competitions.

Hopefully USA Swimming and FINA guidance will deal with more than testosterone levels, which the NCAA used for its criteria. While testosterone blockers and female hormones have an effect on Thomas body, they don’t change him into a woman, and they don’t eliminate the athletic benefits that men have after puberty, such as greater heart and lung capacity, differing bone structures and physical strength.

The NCAA said its new policy “is effective starting with the 2022 winter championships,” which include the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championships, March 16 to 19. Thomas is listed with the fastest time in the Women’s 200-yard freestyle at 1:41.93.

The Independent Women’s Law Center (IWLC) and Independent Women’s Forum condemned the NCAA decision. Jennifer C. Braceras, director of the IWLC, said:  

The NCAA’s decision to endorse the participation of biological men in women’s sports, while making each sporting body decide the particular rules for participation, is a colossal act of cowardice. Make no mistake, by asking female athletes to step aside to make room for biological males, the NCAA discriminates against women.

A UPenn female swimmer also condemned the NCAA, telling the Washington Examiner:

The top people at NCAA, who are on the board of directors … they are not protecting women’s rights. Imagine if there was this kind of inequality in men’s sports. Or someone found out about doping in a men’s sport. It would be fixed in a blink of an eye. Everyone would be all over it. But because it’s women, they don’t care.


Related articles and resources:

Girls Don’t Chest Bump: Transgender Athletes Subverting Title IX

Male Swimmer – Who Identifies as Female – Competes for University of Pennsylvania’s Women’s Swim Team

Male Swimmer Wins Two More Women’s Races – Then Loses to a Female Who Identifies as Male

Poll Finds Most Americans Oppose Transgender Athletes Competing in Sports According to Gender Identity

World Rugby Finds Men and Women are Different: Announces New Guidelines Protecting Elite Women Players


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