The mother of a female Ivy League swimmer said there’s a reason no such athlete has gone public to raise concerns about Lia Thomas: They’re frightened.
The anonymous woman said the league’s female swimmers were pressured by their universities to say nothing to the press about transgender competitor Thomas in a video released Tuesday by the Independent Women’s Forum titled “XX ≠ XY: The Fight to Save Women’s Sports.”
“When the news started asking questions, the schools in each case across the Ivy League pulled their swimmers aside and said, you’re not allowed to talk about this,” said the woman, who said her daughter has competed against Thomas.
“They’re frightened,” she said. “They’re frightened of losing friends, they’re frightened of being kicked off their teams, they’re frightened of being told by their universities that they’re transphobic and hateful.”
The video’s release comes two days before the NCAA Division I women’s swimming and diving championships in Atlanta, where 22-year-old Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania senior, is a leading contender in three freestyle events.
The mother said she first became aware of Thomas early in the 2021-22 season after seeing the senior’s times.
“I was just glancing through the results, and I thought: Who is Lia Thomas? Why don’t I know this name?” she said. “The idea that there was an Ivy League swimmer that was capable of going 1:46 in the 200 free in a practice suit in a dual meet was shocking.”
She said she watched Thomas, who swam for three years on UPenn’s men’s team before transitioning to female ahead of the 2021-22 season, take numerous spots from female teammates.
“Holy cow, we’re going to talk about a male swimmer, a full-grown male, attempting to take down female-icon records, and taking a spot on an Ivy team from one of the Penn swimmers who had rightfully deserved it,” said the mother. “This person’s going to swim every relay going forward at championship meets, is going to take a position from a woman on the travel team, is going to take a space in every finals.”
She said other swimmers expected the university officials to intervene, but they didn’t.
Instead, the Ivy League, Harvard and UPenn have released statements in support of Thomas, who underwent one year of testosterone suppression before being allowed to compete as per NCAA rules.
“At the start of the season, the girls thought that, of course this isn’t right,” said the mother. “They thought that the universities would recognize that there was a problem, and that they shouldn’t be able to compete against a male, a full-grown male, in order to win races or have opportunities. As the year went on, it became clear that they weren’t going to change anything.”
She added that she has remained anonymous to avoid having her daughter suffer a backlash.
“I don’t want my daughter to have any repercussions based upon my desire to speak out for sex-based rights and representation for women,” said the mother. “She deserves to have a college experience unmarred by this issue.”
At least two UPenn female swimmers have made anonymous comments to media outlets criticizing Thomas’ participation.
Sixteen of Thomas’ teammates sent a letter last month without releasing their names in support of USA Swimming’s tougher eligibility rules for transgender athletes. The NCAA declined to implement those standards for the 2021-22 Division I championships.
The LGBTQ group Athlete Ally posted last month a letter signed by more than 300 male and female NCAA, Team USA and Olympic swimmers in support of Thomas.
“With this letter, we express our support for Lia Thomas, and all transgender college athletes, who deserve to be able to participate in safe and welcoming athletic environments,” said the Feb. 10 letter.
Thomas is poised to become the first transgender swimmer to win an NCAA Division I women’s crown at the championships, which run March 16-19.