A group of women on the University of Pennsylvania swim team wrote a letter to the NCAA last week stating that their transgender swimming star teammate, Lia Thomas — who was born male, then transitioned to female — has an “unfair advantage.” They asked the school not to challenge the NCAA’s new transgender athlete participation policies.
“We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically,” the letter says, according to CNN. “However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.”
Written by Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimming champion who is also the CEO of Champion Women, the letter is said to be reflective of 16 anonymous members of the swim team.
Despite the request, it was announced Tuesday, Feb. 8, that Thomas, 22, will be eligible to compete at the conference championships. This decision came after Thomas set numerous records – including in the 100- and 200-meter freestyles at Harvard University last month and finishing in another race nearly 40 seconds before her closest competitor.
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In compliance with former NCAA rules, Thomas has undergone more than two years of hormone replacement therapy while transitioning from a man to a woman. The new NCAA rules will require transgender athletes to “document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections.”
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“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” said John DeGioia, chair of the board and Georgetown president. “It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy.”
Not everyone has a problem with Thomas’ rise to the top as a transgender swimming star. Some teammates have come out in her support.
“We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition,” the athletes said via ESPN. “We value her as a person, teammate, and friend. The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds.”
Thomas has not commented much publicly on the controversy, other than an interview in December 2021 on the SwimSwam podcast.
“I’ve continued to do the sport I love as my authentic self,” Thomas said on the podcast, noting that her coach and teammates have been “unbelievably supportive.”
“I’m feeling confident and good in my swimming and all my personal relationships and transitioning has allowed me to be more confident in all of those aspects of my where I was struggling a lot before I came out,” Thomas added.