UPenn transgender swimmer sparks outrage by shattering women's records

college sports, swimming, transgender, transgender rights

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas is breaking records at UPenn.

Lia Thomas, a 22-year old transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, has been shattering women’s records at the school.

Before her transition, she competed for three years at Penn as a man, named Will Thomas.

At a meet including Princeton and Cornell on Nov. 20, Thomas had a 1:43:47 time in the 200-meter freestyle and 4:35:06 in the 500-meter freestyle. These times were records for Penn and would have placed Thomas second and third, respectively, in the NCAA Women’s Championships, according to the website OutKick.

It is unknown when Thomas transitioned from male to female, but the swimmer competed as a man as recently as November 2019. NCAA rules mandate at least one year of testosterone suppression treatment to be eligible to compete as a woman.

Thomas, co-chair of the UPenn club Non-Cis, spoke to Penn Today this past June.

“(Swimming) is a huge part of my life and who I am. I’ve been a swimmer since I was five years old,” Thomas said. “The process of coming out as being trans and continuing to swim was a lot of uncertainty and unknown around an area that’s usually really solid. Realizing I was trans threw that into question. Was I going to keep swimming? What did that look like?

“Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding.”

college sports, swimming, transgender, transgender rights

Getty Images

As is always the case in stories like this, there is a lot of controversy about fairness of people who are born as men competing as women.

“Well of course women’s records are being smashed!” tweeted Chicago-based sports performance coach Linda Blade. “Lia competed as male for first three years in #NCAA. This is not right! We need to return to #SexBasedSports! #SexNotGender to preserve fairness for female athletes.”

The Daily Mail documented a number of other social media users who felt similarly.

This past June, the Department of Justice argued that laws in Arkansas and West Virginia barring athletes who were born as men from competing in women’s sports were unconstitutional.

“The United States has a significant interest in ensuring that all students, including students who are transgender, can participate in an educational environment free of unlawful discrimination,” the DOJ said in court documents filed in a West Virginia court. 

Also this past June, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who was born Gavin Hubbard and transitioned in 2012, was selected for the country’s team. In a Post op/ed, the writer Bethany Mandel argued that this “defie[d] science and fairness.”

In May, a Gallup poll found that 62 percent of American respondents believed that transgender athletes should only be permitted to compete in sports that correspond with their gender at birth.

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