By Sukanya Mitra
Boston University News Service
Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old transgender swimming champion from Pennsylvania, has become the target of scrutiny and criticism from the sporting world. Thomas won first place in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s first division swimming championship. It was the last time she was competing as a collegiate athlete.
Her only drawback?
Identifying as a trans woman in the sports industry.
As Thomas swam to the finish line in the women’s 500-yard freestyle race, she realized that this might be her last ever collegiate interaction, as her critics challenged her identity.
The controversy surrounding Thomas comes after the American right-wing questioned whether trans women should be allowed to compete against women in college sports without giving them an “unfair advantage.”
While the Olympics and the NCAA allow trans athletes to compete in sports, the requirement of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a deciding factor. That’s what helped Thomas justify her stance.
“In a way, it felt like a rebirth,” said Thomas in an interview with Sports Illustrated, earlier this year.
The University of Pennsylvania athlete began her HRT in 2018 and has been undergoing treatment for three years now. Her critics argue that HRT does not minimize the effects of testosterone since its inception. Scientifically, post-HRT trans women do not dominate the sports arena.
Her transition from competing in the men’s section to the women’s team has raised an uproar, as many believe Thomas to have an upper hand while competing in women’s singles.
While cis women get applauded for their wins, trans women face the ugly side of American sports ––the criticism of not being good enough to deserve a chance.
“This isn’t to prove that trans women can’t be great athletes, or win, or even dominate. It is to prove that people are lying to you in order to turn you against trans women athletes,” said Schuyler Bailar, the first open trans swimmer in the NCAA men’s first division, in an interview with The Independent. He also serves as an advisor to Thomas.
The question is: Why should trans athletes be subjected to physical discrimination when they have to regulate their hormones to compete?
Biological differences are key factors that contribute to the hostility against Thomas and the subsequent mental agony she faces. Her teammates even wish for her to be ousted from the women’s locker room because of her male body parts.
“It’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women,” said one of Thomas’ teammates to The Daily Mail.
As the opposition against Thomas continues to rise, the right-wingers have taken control and challenged the progressive mindset of the sports fraternity. The Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, approved legislation last year banning trans women from high school and college women’s sports. Furthermore, women should need to have a valid birth certificate to prove their assigned gender.
This year, DeSantis proclaimed Florida-born Emma Weyant as the winner of the women’s 500-yard freestyle, instead of Thomas. “By allowing men to compete in women’s sports, the NCAA is destroying opportunities for women, making a mockery of its championships, and perpetuating a fraud,” DeSantis said on Twitter.
Thomas is not the first trans athlete to go through the immense pressure of societal abuse. But transphobic hate is not going to bring her spirits down.
“I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. Trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets,” Thomas said.