Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas owes her record-breaking season not to being a male-born athlete competing against women, but to the years of hard work she devoted to her sport, Penn Law student groups say.
Sixteen leftist organizations affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, known as Penn Law, defended the 22-year-old Penn swimmer in a Wednesday op-ed in the Daily Pennsylvanian headlined, “Trans women belong in women’s sports.”
“Thomas, who has been swimming since she was 5 years old, had an incredible season following a year-long break; she won events, broke records and earned bids to the NCAA championships,” the column states. “Thomas did not succeed because she is transgender; she succeeded because of the hard work she has put in throughout her long swimming career, and because she is finally able to authentically be herself and race in a sport that she loves.”
A Penn senior, Ms. Thomas swam for three years on the men’s team before transitioning to female and joining the women’s side for the 2021-22 season. She holds the nation’s fastest NCAA times this year in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, and set meet and pool records last month in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
Ms. Thomas adhered to the NCAA policy requiring at least a year of testosterone suppression before competing against women, but critics, including coaches and former NCAA swimmers, argue that the standard isn’t enough to level the playing field between male- and female-born athletes.
In their column, however, the student groups, including Penn Law for Philly, Law Students for a Democratic Society and Penn Law Lambda, argued that being transgender should be viewed as no different than other biological attributes because being trans is not a choice.
“Despite the misunderstandings of those who accuse trans women of cheating and playing unfairly, being trans in sports is not a choice like the decision to take a performance-enhancing drug — athletes have as much say in their height as their gender identity,” the groups said.
The focus on “supposed biological advantages that trans women possess but ignoring all other often-valued advantages athletes may possess both implies that being trans is a choice and demonstrates that the goal is not competitive fairness — rather, it is exclusion,” they said.
Critics have countered that competitive sports are typically segregated by sex and age to ensure fairness because both are seen as enormously significant factors in performance, more so than height, weight or other attributes.
“This [op-ed] is not surprising at all, but it’s a shame none of these groups are willing to stand up for biological females on the swim team,” said Legal Insurrection writer Mike LaChance.
The op-ed also said that “out of the over 200,000 women that compete in the NCAA each year, it has been estimated that only 100 are trans.”
The other groups signing the op-ed included the Trans Empowerment & Advocacy Project, Penn Law National Lawyers Guild, Latinx Law Students Association, and Penn Law Women’s Association.
The NCAA changed its transgender-eligibility policy last week in response to the outcry over Ms. Thomas, throwing out its testosterone requirement and adopting a sport-by-sport approach determined by the national sports governing bodies.
The Penn swimming and diving team is set to close out its regular season Jan. 28 with a meet in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Ms. Thomas is expected to be a favorite in her events at the Ivy League Championships on Feb. 16-19 and the NCAA Division I championships March 16-19.