Swimmer Lia Thomas insisted Tuesday that male-to-female transgender athletes pose no threat to women’s sports, arguing that losing races, team slots and scholarships is “part of athletics.”
The former collegiate champion defended her participation in female sports in interviews released Tuesday with ABC’s “Good Morning America” and ESPN, marking her first public comments since becoming the first male-born swimmer to win an NCAA Division I women’s title in March.
“It’s no different than a cis woman taking a spot on a travel team or a scholarship. It’s a part of athletics, where people are competing against each other,” Thomas said in the ESPN interview. “It’s not taking away opportunities from cis women, really. Trans women are women, so it’s still a woman who is getting that scholarship or that opportunity.”
The term “cis women,” shorthand for “cisgender women,” is used to differentiate biological females from biological males who identify as female.
Critics of male-born athletes in female sports argue that they have taken opportunities from girls and women, but Thomas said transgender athletes are too few in number to threaten women’s sports.
“Trans women competing in women’s sports does not threaten women’s sports as a whole because trans women are a very small minority of all athletes,” Thomas said. “The NCAA rules regarding trans women competing in women’s sports have been around for 10-plus years. And we haven’t seen any massive wave of trans women dominating.”
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Thomas smashed records and won titles in her first season on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team after competing for three years on the men’s team, but insisted that athletic glory wasn’t the reason for transitioning.
“The biggest misconception, I think, is the reason I transitioned,” Thomas said. “People will say, ‘Oh, she just transitioned so she would have an advantage, so she could win.’ I transitioned to be happy, to be true to myself.”
Thomas said she underwent 30 months of hormone therapy after beginning to transition in May 2019, after her sophomore year, exceeding the NCAA’s requirement at the start of the 2021-22 season for at least a year of testosterone suppression.
Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Michael Joyner told ABC that the up to four years of testosterone suppression for male-born athletes who have undergone puberty is “probably insufficient.”
He cited “issues related to body size, airway size, hand size, foot size, perhaps bone density and so forth, but I think the main thing is just the interactions of exercise training and skeletal muscle.”
Thomas, who graduated in May and plans to attend law school, disagreed.
“I’m not a medical expert, but there’s a lot of variation among cis female athletes,” said Thomas. “There are cis women who are very tall and very muscular and have more testosterone than another cis woman. Should that then also disqualify them?”
Thomas, who plans to attend law school in the fall, also rejected proposals to create a category of competition for transgender athletes, calling it “othering.”
“If you say, like, you can compete, but you can’t score or you’re in an extra lane nine, that’s very othering towards trans people,” Thomas said. “And it is not offering them the same level of respect and opportunity to play and to compete.”
The interviews coincided with a video interview with an anonymous woman identified as one of Thomas’s UPenn teammates, who told conservative podcast host Matt Walsh that there was pressure to support Thomas.
“If you even bring up the fact that Lia swimming might not be fair, you were immediately shut down as being called a hateful person or transphobic,” said the woman, saying university officials told the team that Thomas’s participation was “non-negotiable.”
Advocates for single-sex sports protested Thomas’ participation at the NCAA championships in Atlanta, but Thomas called the event an “amazing experience.”
“To be able to fulfill that personal goal and be at that meet as well as competing as my authentic self was such an amazing experience to have these things that I’d been working toward for so long all come together,” Thomas told ABC.
Thomas also refused to rule out an Olympic bid in 20224.
“It’s been a goal of mine to swim at Olympic trials for a very long time, and I would love to see that through,” Thomas said.