Lia Thomas’s win sparks massive controversy over trans athletes in women’s sports

Woman swimming laps in a competition pool. Photo by Marcus Ng on

Lia Thomas made history last week as the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I swimming championship. The fifth-year senior won the 500m freestyle title in Atlanta with a season-best time of 4:33.24.

A month ago, Thomas won her third Ivy league swimming championship and set multiple Ivy league records.

Thomas is at the center of controversy despite her win, as many questioned whether she should have been allowed to compete in the women’s division.

USA Swimming’s policy clearly states that trans athletes must undergo three years of hormone replacement therapy before being allowed to compete.

Thomas was six months short of that requirement, but the NCAA refused to follow USA Swimming’s rules and allowed the senior to compete in last week’s meet in Atlanta.

Many people have weighed in on the matter, some condemning the NCAA’s decision, and others have supported her.

Protestors from Save Women’s Sports and Young Women of America were active outside the McAuley Aquatic Center hours before the event.

On the other side of the street, Georgia Tech graduates and undergraduate students assembled to show support for Thomas and condemn the other protestors.

Concerned Women for America announced last week that they officially filed a Title IX complaint against the University of Pennsylvania. The organization argues that the university violates Title IX by allowing Thomas to compete on the same team as women.

CWA president and CEO Penny Nance released a statement in conjunction with the complaint.

“The future of women’s sports is at risk, and the equal rights of female athletes are [at risk],” Nance said. “We filed a formal civil rights complaint against UPenn in response to this injustice.”

Thomas declined to attend the NCAA-required post-race news conference and instead opted to be interviewed by Elizabeth Beisel after the race.
“It means the world to be here,” Thomas said. “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] block out everything else.”

Reka Gyorgy, Virginia Tech swimmer and former olympian, sent a letter to the NCAA last week to blast the NCAA’s decision to allow transgender swimmer Lia Thomas to compete in the women’s division at the NCAA swimming championships.

“This is my last college meet ever, and I feel frustrated. It feels like that final spot was taken away from me because of the NCAA’s decision … I know you could say I had the opportunity to swim faster and make the top 16, but this situation makes it a bit different, and I can’t help but be angry or sad. It hurts me, my team, and other women in the pool,” she wrote.

Gyorgy finished 17th in the 500-yard freestyle event and just missed the cutoff as the top sixteen swimmers advanced to the finals.

Gyorgy also said that “every event that transgender athletes competed in was one spot taken away from biological females throughout the meet.”

Gyorgy asked the NCAA to think of all female swimmers and what it would feel like to be in their shoes. She ended the letter by thanking the NCAA and telling them to make the “right changes for our sport and a better future in swimming.”

In a recent feature on Thomas published in Sports Illustrated, sources close to Penn’s swimming team estimated that only six to eight of 37 total members of the squad were “adamant supporters” of the swimmer who competed on the men’s team for her first three years of college.

Author Robert Sanchez said that about half of the team “opposes her competing against other women,” while others “have steered clear of the debate.”
After the story was released, a group of teammates issued a public message of support for Thomas amid the controversy.
In response to this, another group of teammates wrote an anonymous letter to the Ivy League requesting that Thomas be removed from their upcoming swimming championship meet.
The letter sent to the Ivy League read, “If she were to be eligible to compete, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA women’s swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.”