Transgender Swimmer Sparks Sports Debate


Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas is the topic of controversy in the college sports world.
Thomas is a 22-year-old transgender swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers. She was previously known as William Thomas, but transitioned in 2019. She recently competed in the 2022 Women’s NCAA Championships on March 16, where she won a gold medal in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:33.24, and also placed 5th in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 141.93 seconds.
Some people believe Thomas has an unfair advantage over her fellow competitors.
Thomas first started competing as a woman in the 2021-2022 swim season, which was also her senior season. The NCAA rules state that an athlete transitioning has to undergo hormone transplants for at least a year before they are allowed to compete.
Thomas did her hormone transplants for a year, and was training and competing with the University of Pennsylvania’s Men’s team, until her year of hormone therapy was completed. In her first season competing for the Penn Women’s team, she broke team records, pool records, and even Ivy League records.
Many swimmers believe the playing field is not even if Thomas is competing against other women. After Thomas posted her top times of the season in Dec. 2021 at the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio, 20 protesters from “Saving Women’s Sports” stood outside the building, chanting that we cannot let women’s sports be displaced, according to an NBC News article .
These activists are fighting for women’s sports, according to the article, and do not think that it is an issue regarding Thomas as a transgender woman, but more about protecting women’s sports and being able to provide an equal opportunity for the thousands of women who compete.
Some competitors who have raced Thomas this year agree with the activists who are opposing Thomas competing as a woman, but some, like Brooke Forde, a swimmer at Stanford University, said she does not have a problem with Thomas’s success.
“I believe that treating people with respect and dignity is more important than any trophy or record ever will be,” Forde told Newsweek.
Ella Mattocks, a six-year boarding senior from Shutesbury, Mass., who will continue her swim career at college next year, has mixed feelings on the issue.
“Lia Thomas competing at the 2022 NCAA Championships was both fair and unfair, given her social gender is female, but it is unfair because she has biological advantages the other women competing [in] the NCAA Championships do not have, and cannot have.”
Campbell Collins, a junior from Virginia, believes Thomas competing against other females is unfair.
“It sets the playing field to a unfair level for biological females,” Collins said. “It is significantly proven that men with higher levels of testosterone can compete at higher levels. This has been shown through the past decades, as many have competed and gotten faster times than women.”
Several fellow Penn swimmers, and their parents, spoke out anonymously against Thomas being part of the women’s team.
“We support Lia as a trans woman and hope she leads a happy and productive life, because that is what she deserves,” a parent of a Penn Swim and Dive athlete told Sports Illustrated. “What we can’t do is stand by while she rewrites records and eliminates biological women from this sport.”