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Trans-identified swimmer wins NCAA women's championship amid protests over fairness

Lia Thomas
University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smiles after winning the 100-yard freestyle during the 2022 Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. |

A trans-identified swimmer has won an NCAA championship, sparking outrage from critics who oppose allowing biological males who identify as females to compete on women’s sports teams.

Will Thomas, a trans-identified swimmer who now goes by the name Lia, won the 500-yard freestyle in the NCAA Division I national championship at the Georgia Institute of Technology Thursday.

Thomas, who competes on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming team, edged out the second-place finisher by nearly two seconds.

Multiple groups opposed to rules allowing biological males who identify as females from competing in women’s sports protested outside and inside Georgia Tech's McAuley Aquatic Center.

Members of Concerned Women for America, a socially conservative advocacy group that filed a civil rights complaint against the University of Pennsylvania for allowing Thomas to compete on the women’s team, held signs outside the natatorium ahead of the competition.

One of the signs read “Girls’ Sports for Girls Only,” while another read “This One’s for the Girls.”

“The real winner of that race was the second-place swimmer,” Katie Everett, press secretary for Concerned Women for America, said in a statement to The Christian Post. “Second is the new first.”

Recalling the atmosphere at the protest outside the McAuley Aquatic Center, Everett said there was much verbal and nonverbal support from “grateful parents and athletes walking in and out of the Georgia Tech Rec Center.”

“Concerned Women for America will continue to support female athletes and the fight to save women’s sports,” she vowed. 

In CWA’s complaint addressed to Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon and published Thursday, Concerned Women for America, said that as recently as 2020, “Thomas was competing as a member of UPenn’s men’s swimming team.”

“UPenn allowed Thomas to join the women’s team after self-identifying as a woman. But Thomas is still anatomically a male, bearing all the biological advantages of male developmental physique,” the letter complains.

“By allowing a male to take a spot and compete on the women’s swim team, depriving aspiring young women athletes of a fair and level playing field in competition, UPenn commits a grave injustice and violates” federal civil rights law.

Specifically, CWA argues that UPenn was committing “egregious violations of the protections for women on the basis of sex secured a half-century ago in the landmark passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.” Title IX was designed to give women equal opportunity in education, including sports.

Thomas’ victory in the 500-yard freestyle comes as some states are implementing laws requiring student-athletes to compete on teams that correspond with their biological sex instead of their identity.

Supporters of such legislation frequently point to the biological differences between men and women that they believe give trans-identified males an unfair advantage over their biologically female counterparts in athletic events.

A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that trans-identified males retain advantages over biological females even after two years of taking “feminizing” hormones. Critics have also argued that males, on average, have larger bone density and more muscle mass.

LGBT advocacy groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have claimed that trans-identified biologically male athletes don’t necessarily have a competitive advantage because “trans athletes vary in athletic ability just like cisgender athletes.” 

Concerned Women for America’s complaint quoted testimony from one of the UPenn swimmers featured in a Daily Mail article. 

“‘It’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women," one swimmer on the team told DailyMail.com.

The athlete further alleged that Thomas has told her teammates that she dates women and that sometimes there is a “decent amount of nudity" in the locker room. She stated that team members had raised their concerns with the coach. 

Everett told CP that “colleges and universities are allowing a hostile environment to fester which threatens female athletes’ entire college careers and even future earning opportunities if they dare to speak out against these unfair policies.”

“The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has a duty, under Title IX, to investigate the allegations in our complaint, which we feel are unassailable,” Everett stated. “So, we expect them to do their job and protect women athletes from discrimination based on their sex. We expect them to push UPenn and other colleges and universities to provide a safe and fair environment for women athletes to have the equal opportunities afforded to them by law.”

Given the Biden administration’s stance on bills designed to restrict participation in women’s sports to biological females, it seems unlikely that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights will take action against the University of Pennsylvania or the NCAA.

In an interview with ESPN last year, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona suggested that he was open to taking legal action against states that passed legislation to prevent biological males from competing in women’s sports. 

Thomas is scheduled to compete in other competitions this weekend, including a 100-yard freestyle on Saturday.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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