Lia Thomas, the first transgender swimmer to win a major US college title, has spoken for the first time since she made waves as an elite athlete, defending her right to compete in the sport.
The University of Pennsylvania student became the first transgender swimmer to win an American College Division I National Title, winning the NCAA 500-yard (457m) freestyle in March 2022.
Trans People Don’t Transition For Athletics
USA Swimming updated their policy on February 2022, requiring trans athletes to have undergone 36 months of hormone replacement therapy and an evaluation of eligibility for transgender women by a three-person panel before being allowed to compete. Thomas was 6 months short from that target when she won the title. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), did not adopt that policy for the 2022 swimming competition, allowing Thomas to compete.
In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Thomas said that “Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves. Transitioning to get an advantage is not something that ever factors into our decisions.”
Thomas’ victory led to a backlash, with right-wing politicians and conservative groups arguing that trans athletes should not be allowed to compete in women’s sports. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, at least 30 states this year have introduced legislation to keep trans youth from participating in sports.
Trans Women Are Not A Threat To Women’s Sports
In February, 16 of Thomas’ teammates signed an anonymous letter to Ivy League and college officials arguing that she should not be allowed to compete because her physical advantages posed a threat to the competition.
The letter outlined their support for Thomas to affirm her gender identity and transition but stated that the “biology of sex” was separate from “someone’s gender identity.”
Thomas responded to these concerns by asserting, “You can’t go halfway and be, like, ‘I support trans women and trans people, but only to a certain point.” She declared that “trans women were not a threat to women’s sports.”
Thomas has recently graduated from Penn University and hopes to see her Olympic dreams come true, “It’s been a goal of mine to swim at Olympic trials for a very long time, and I would love to see that through.”