Trans swimming champion Lia Thomas finishes controversial college career – what’s next for athlete?

‘Lia Thomas deserves all the celebration for her success this season, but instead is being met with nationwide misogyny and transphobia,’ says the National Women’s Law Center

Nathan Place
New York
Thursday 31 March 2022 18:11 BST
Trans swimmer Lia Thomas discusses transitioning to women’s swimming

Lia Thomas, who made history as the first transgender swimmer to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship, has finished her college swimming career. Both her supporters and detractors have a lot to say about it.

Ms Thomas, a fifth-year senior at the University of Pennsylvania, won first place in the women’s 500-yard freestyle two weeks ago. She finished the race in four minutes and 33.24 seconds, almost two whole seconds faster than the next swimmer.

Many hailed her accomplishment as a triumph for LGBT+ inclusion in the sport, but a number of conservative figures called the victory unfair, attacking Ms Thomas as a “man” competing with women. Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert even backed a House resolution declaring the runner-up, Emma Weyant, the true winner of the race.

“I’ve had enough of the woke foolishness,” Ms Boebert tweeted. “You cannot be a man and win a women’s swimming race.”

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, signed a proclamation declaring the same thing.

“By allowing men to compete in women’s sports, the NCAA is destroying opportunities for women, making a mockery of its championships, and perpetuating a fraud,” the governor said.

Ms Thomas’ supporters, meanwhile, have rushed to her defence.

“Lia Thomas deserves all the celebration for her success this season, but instead is being met with nationwide misogyny and transphobia,” the National Women’s Law Center tweeted. “Lia, we need people like you. Not only as a swimmer, but to inspire women athletes – cis and trans – everywhere.”

Women’s sports groups have disputed the notion that trans athletes should only compete with members of their “biological” sex. Several organisations, including the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, explained this in an open letter supporting the Equality Act in 2019.

“The idea that allowing girls who are transgender to compete in girls’ sports leads to male domination of female sports is based on a flawed understanding of what it means to be transgender and a misrepresentation of nondiscrimination laws,” the groups wrote. “Transgender girls are girls and transgender women are women.”

Ms Thomas, meanwhile, says she tunes out the controversy.

“I don’t look into the negativity and the hate,” the champion told Sports Illustrated. “I am here to swim.”

Ms Thomas told the magazine her plans after college are not yet set in stone. She’s submitted applications to law schools, and wants to continue training during her studies. And she still dreams of competing at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

“I don’t know exactly what the future of my swimming will look like after this year, but I would love to continue doing it,” Ms Thomas told SI. “I want to swim and compete as who I am.”

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