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Lia Thomas is NCAA’s first Transgender Division One National Champion

Despite the change in trans participation policies by USA Swimming that would have disqualified her, NCAA ruled Thomas was qualified to swim

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Lia Thomas, 4th swimmer from the top, lane 4, she's further left than the other swimmers hugging the wall (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

ATLANTA – Lia Thomas, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, swam faster than any other woman in the 500-yard freestyle competition Thursday in Atlanta and made history by doing so. Not just because she finished in 4:33:24, more than a second faster than her closest competitor, but because she is an out transgender woman.

Her honor came at the Women’s Swimming and Diving National Championships, and despite rules that require her to speak to the news media following her win, Thomas spoke only to ESPN and “declined” attending the mandatory news conference, according to a spokesperson.

As for her victory, there are people who are plenty mad about it. When ESPN interviewed the 22-year-old, live, following the event, and some in the crowd booed.

“I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations for this meet,” Thomas told ESPN, according to a transcript of the interview provided by out nonbinary journalist Katie Barnes. “I was just happy to be here, trying to race and compete as best as I could.”

The ESPN correspondent asked the Austin, Texas native about competing “under the spotlight.” 

“I try to ignore it as much as I can. I try to focus on my swimming, what I need to do to get ready for my races and just try to block out everything else,” Thomas said. She added: ”It means the world to be here, being with two of my best friends and teammates and to be able to compete.”

The interview ended, and some in the stands booed. Among the parents and supporters from across the country were demonstrators from an anti-transgender inclusion organization, Save Women’s Sports. 

Activists against transgender inclusion protest outside the McAuley Aquatics Center on March 17, 2022 (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“It’s not right. It’s not fair,” Beth Stelzer, the group’s founder, told me amid a crowd of about 20 anti-trans protesters, waving signs and leading chants with a bullhorn outside the McAuley Aquatics Center on the campus of Georgia Tech.

“We are here to give these girls, parents, coaches, that are too afraid to speak up a voice, because women matter. We won’t say no. Save women’s sports!”

Beth Stelzer (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

Despite the change in transgender participation policies by USA Swimming that would have disqualified her, the NCAA ruled earlier this month that Thomas was qualified to swim. I asked Stelzer, who is an amateur powerlifter, about the fact that Thomas is competing fair and square, according to the NCAA.

“I think it’s cowardly,” said Stelzer. “I think that it has been driven by money and feelings, instead of doing what is right and what is right is protecting women.” 

According to one of the university officials keeping a close eye on the competing demonstrations, there were no altercations, no arrests, no injuries, and, he told me, he saw “no women in need of protecting.” He declined to give his name. 

Another official told me he needed to step in when one demonstrator “crossed the line.” More about that, after details of the meet. 

The 500 Free

Earlier in the day, Thomas led throughout her preliminary heat and extended her lead over Stanford’s Brooke Forde on the final lap to finish with her best time so far, 4 minutes, 33.82 seconds. Her previous best this year was 4:34.06. Stanford’s Brooke Forde finished second in the heat and sixth overall at 4:38.19. 

Then came the finals. Just after 6 p.m., Thomas and the field of eight swimmers were tightly packed for several laps, with Thomas trailing Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant of the University of Virginia for much of the heat. Then in the final laps, Thomas pulled ahead and finished more than a full second ahead of Weyant.

No one, including Thomas, set any NCAA or pool records Thursday. 

There was some applause and cheers from spectators, but the largest outpouring came as Weyant touched the wall, a repeat of what happened in the prelims when the crowd waited for the second-place finisher before they cheered. 

The crowd fell quiet when Thomas was introduced at the beginning of the finals, then resumed cheering for the other swimmers. During the award ceremony that followed the crowd’s boos for Thomas, her competitors and spectators politely clapped for her.

Trans History

Thomas is not the first trans NCAA competitor in Division 1. Kye Allums earned that title in 2010. She isn’t even be the first trans NCAA swimmer: Schuyler Bailar notched that moment in history in 2015 as the first trans athlete to compete on a DI men’s team.

Bailar, a friend of Thomas, was at the championships Thursday, cheering her on, along with others waving trans Pride flags. Also, there is one other NCAA All-American of note: In 2019, Olympic hopeful CeCé Telfer became the first NCAA champion in DII track.

Forbes contributor & LA Blade Sports Editor Dawn Ennis with Schuyler Bailar
(Photo by Dawn Ennis)

Telfer’s achievement and the success of two Connecticut high school track stars sparked controversy across the country about trans girls and trans women competing with cisgender student-athletes. The Connecticut case wound up in federal court, and despite a judge tossing the suit, it’s now in the appeal phase. 

The swimming success of Thomas, who up until 2019 competed with Penn’s men’s team, has been seized by conservatives as a rallying cry to generate support for bans against trans student-athletes in 11 states and for other laws that discriminate against trans American youth, such as outlawing gender-affirming healthcare, and even Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill. 

What’s missing from all that legislation is actual scientific evidence that would support the cause of groups like Save Women’s Sports. Despite dire warnings, CeCé Telfer didn’t destroy women’s sports in 2019. Laurel Hubbard didn’t destroy women’s sports at the Olympics last summer. And so far, Lia Thomas hasn’t destroyed women’s sports in 2022. 

Journalist Julie Compton interviewed researcher Joanna Harper about the science for NBC News.

“The question isn’t ‘Do trans women have advantages?’ Because yes, that is so obviously true,” said Harper, a medical physicist and the author of “Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes. Harper added that it is normal for athletes to have certain advantages and that any advantages trans women have are not necessarily unfair. “But can trans women and cis women compete against one another in meaningful competition? That’s the important question. That’s the interesting question. And that’s a question that we don’t have a 100 percent firm answer yet.”

“It’s a truism of trans athletes that we can compete in women’s sports as long as we don’t win,” said Harper, who herself is trans. “If we win, then it’s problematic. And, of course, how can you compete if you’re not allowed to win?”

The Other Trans Swimmer

Iszac Henig is the only swimmer for Yale at these championships, and is also the only man. He is a transgender man, who, in order to continue competing in women’s swimming with his Bulldogs teammates, opted to delay one part of his medical transition: He postponed the administration of the gender-affirming hormone testosterone. He did have top surgery, however.

Iszac Henig/Instagram

On Thursday evening, Henig finished 16th in the 50-free race, earning All-American Honorable Mention. He will compete Friday and Saturday in the the 100-butterfly and 100-free. In Saturday’s meet, he will be competing head to head against Thomas, the first time two transgender student-athletes have appeared in the same championship event. 

Despite Henig being a man, Stelzer misidentified him in our interview when I asked if she was also opposed to him competing. 

“If a woman who identifies as being a man wants to swim with the women, I’m all for it ,as long as they’re not taking any testosterone or other performance enhancing substances,” she said. “There might be a little bit of an issue with the mastectomy, because that could possibly streamline, so a little bit of an advantage there, some might say. But I have no issue with a woman swimming in women’s sports. And when it comes down to it, that’s a woman’s body there.” 

Although Henig was not available for comment, a small but vocal group from Yale University traveled to Atlanta for the meet, and cheered him on. They told me they were beyond excited for him, and they explained that like Henig, they are not granting media interviews, but wanted it known how proud they are of him.

Dueling Protests Outside

Far from the pool, the protesters chanting “Even when we’re swimmin’ we’re standing up for women!” were separated from an equally loud group of about 20 pro-transgender inclusion demonstrators, chanting just as loud. 

“Hey hey, ho, ho! Transphobes have got to go!” and “Say it loud, say it clear! Trans athletes are welcome here!” they shouted.

Demonstrators supporting transgender student-athletes across the street from the McAuley Aquatics Center in Atlanta, Ga. on March 17, 2022. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

Some of those in that group were themselves trans and nonbinary. As they spoke to reporters, one of the Save Women’s Sports activists crossed the street to record the counter-protest, getting within inches of some of the demonstrators’ faces with her camera. This was when one of the officials watching the dueling protests and maintaining order stepped between her and the demonstrators, at one point directing her to back off. Her name is Kat, and she’s from New York.

Save Women Sports activist Kat records video of trans rights demonstrators across the street from the McAuley Aquatics Center in Atlanta, Ga. on March 17, 2022. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“I used to support transgender rights,” Kat told me, and later she disclosed that she used to identify as nonbinary and has trans friends and family members. “But then I learned about the government changing the laws to erase the difference between sex and gender and endangering biological women.” 

Kat is referring to President Biden’s executive order, signed on the day he was inaugurated. It actually says: 

“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love. Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

It also says both Title VII and Title IX related to discrimination should include protections on the basis of gender identity. It doesn’t erase sex. It expands the scope of protections from discrimination. 

Another Save Women Sports activist worked the crowd, handing out trinkets with their logo to those few spectators willing to take them. For the most part, they were later found littering the stands under seats and outside McAuley. 

When the TV camera crews, reporters and photographers from the national news outlets packed up their gear and left, so did the protesters.

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Editor’s Note: The preceding article was a media share between Forbes.com & the Los Angeles Blade.

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German soccer federation: Trans players can decide their team to play on

“This new regulation on playing rights will provide an important foundation to allow players with diverse gender identities to play football”

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Photo courtesy of the German Football Association (Deutscher Fußball-Bund e.V.)

FRANKFURT – The German Football Association (Deutscher Fußball-Bund e.V.) this week issued new regulations and rules governing all transgender, intersex and non-binary players. On Thursday the governing soccer body passed a new regulation that takes effect as of the start of the upcoming 2022-23 season allowing all trans, intersex and non-binary players to decide for themselves whether to compete on men’s or women’s teams.

The DFB also specified that as long as the player’s health is not affected by playing sports while taking medication, they can continue to participate in the sport. Under the new regulation, this would not be considered as doping.

This marks a departure from the recent trend and actions of other international sports governing associations such those taken earlier this month by the swimming’s world governing body FINA, which meeting in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest, voted to restrict transgender athletes from elite women’s competitions.

FINA said their action was necessary to determine eligibility criteria because of the “biological performance gap” that appears between males & females.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, the DFB’s diversity ambassador, said “Football (soccer) stands for diversity, a value that the DFB also promotes. This new regulation on playing rights will provide an important foundation to allow players with diverse gender identities to play football.”

Sabine Mammitzsch, the vice president for women’s and girls’ football (soccer) welcomes the regulation telling media outlets:

“The national and regional associations and also those responsible at grassroots level have signaled for some time that there is uncertainty around how to treat trans, intersex and non-binary players in practice. They therefore welcome the introduction of a far-reaching, nationwide regulation on the playing rights of these groups.”

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NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell talks to Billie Jean King on impact of Title IX

The impact of Title IX on women’s sports is significant. The law opened doors and removed barriers for girls and women

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Screenshot/YouTube NBC Nightly News

NEW YORK – This week marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX which was signed into law June 23, 1972 by then President Richard Nixon. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.

Title IX states: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Two years after Title IX was signed into law, King founded the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974. In 1971, before Title IX passed, only 1% of college athletic budgets went to women’s sports programs. At the high school level, male athletes outnumbered female athletes 12.5 to 1. 

The impact of Title IX on women’s sports is significant. The law opened doors and removed barriers for girls and women, and while female athletes and their sports programs still have fewer teams, fewer scholarships, and lower budgets than their male counterparts, since Title IX’s passage, female participation at the high school level has grown by 1057 percent and by 614 percent at the college level.

The impact of Title IX stretches into professional sports as well. More opportunities have emerged for young women to turn their sport into their career, particularly in the WNBA. Collegiate and professional coaching opportunities have increased as well.

An openly Out lesbian, King and her longtime partner Ilana Kloss joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as co-owners in September of 2018.

NBC News reported that fifty years after Title IX was signed, the impact of the law is still being felt by women in sports across the country. Tennis legend, Billie Jean King, who has devoted her life to fighting for gender equality in sports, spoke with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell regarding Title IX. She explained that while we have come a long way there is “much more to do.”

Billie Jean King Discusses Title IX Fifty Years Later:

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World swimming body FINA votes to ban Trans athletes

FINA says it was necessary to determine eligibility criteria because of the “biological performance gap” that appears between males & females

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FINA's president, Husain Al-Musallam, announcing the new policy Sunday in Budapest (Screenshot/YouTube 10 News First)

BUDAPEST – The Swimming’s world governing body FINA meeting in the Hungarian capital city voted to restrict transgender athletes from elite women’s competitions. The final vote tally of the representatives was 71.5% approval for the new policy which requires transgender athletes show that “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

Enactment of that requirement effectively eliminates trans women’s eligibility to compete in the women’s category.

Tanner Stages describe the physical changes people undergo during puberty.

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,” FINA’s president, Husain Al-Musallam, said in a statement.

The organisation is maintaining that it was necessary to use sex and sex-linked traits to determine eligibility criteria because of the “performance gap” that appears between males and females during puberty.

“Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums, or in championship positions; and in sports and events involving collisions and projectiles, biological female athletes would be at greater risk of injury,” the statement from FINA’s new policy read.

Athlete Ally, which advocates for Trans athletes responded:

“FINA’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations is deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 International Olympic Committee framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations,” said Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally.

“This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue,” said Joni Madison, Human Rights Campaign Interim President. “This policy is an example of swimming organizations caving to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer. We urge the FINA to rethink its policy and ensure inclusion for all athletes — including transgender women – and allow them to participate in sports free from discrimination, abuse and harassment.

“To the young athletes who may be disheartened by this policy, know that we know and believe that every young person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and that transgender kids, like their friends, deserve the same chances to learn sportsmanship, self-discipline, and teamwork, and to build a sense of belonging with their peers,” Madison added.

Swimming Body FINA Votes To Segregate Trans Athletes | 10 News First:

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