University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas says she “belongs on the women’s team” after more than a dozen teammates said she shouldn’t be allowed to compete.
“The very simple answer is that I’m not a man. I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team,” Thomas, a 22-year-old transgender woman, told Sports Illustrated in an interview published Thursday. “Trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets.”
Thomas, a senior student-athlete, competed on the men’s team for three seasons. After completing two years of hormone replacement therapy, Thomas competed on the women’s swim team in the 2021-22 season in dominant fashion. At the Ivy League championships last month, Thomas won the 100-meter freestyle (47.63), 200 freestyle (1:43.12) and 500 freestyle (4:37.32).
Thomas said she’s not focused on her success – “I get into the water every day and do my best” – but critics said she has an unfair advantage over cisgender athletes. Thomas said she doesn’t “look into the negativity and the hate,” but she has unwillingly become the face of the national debate on transgender athletes’ inclusion in sports.
In February, 16 of Thomas’ teammates anonymously sent a letter to the school and the Ivy League stating that Thomas should not be allowed to compete because she could break “Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.”
“We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically,” read the letter, which was obtained by the Washington Post. “However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female.”But, Thomas said there’s no middle ground.
“I’m a woman, just like anybody else on the team,” Thomas says. “I’ve always viewed myself as just a swimmer. It’s what I’ve done for so long; it’s what I love.”In February, the NCAA cleared Thomas to compete at the 2022 women’s championships in Atlanta from March 16-18 after ruling that a new policy for transgender athletes won’t go into effect until the 2023-24 season. Thomas was in compliance with the previously approved NCAA testosterone threshold of 10 nanomoles per liter.”I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone,” Thomas told Sports Illustrated. “They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love.”
And Thomas said she has no plans to slow down. She has her eyes set on the 2024 Olympic trials.”I don’t know exactly what the future of my swimming will look like after this year, but I would love to continue doing it,” Thomas told Sports Illustrated. “I want to swim and compete as who I am.”
She continued: “I’ve been reinvigorated. I’ve been swimming for 17 years, but for (only) a short part of that time have I felt fully engaged. After coming out and being my authentic self, I could really start to see a future. Before I came out, I couldn’t visualize a future.”