Editorial | Transgender athletes deserve place on podium

Lia Thomas, a swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, recently made headlines for being the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship. This title was met with wide criticism from many across the nation, ranging from moms of student athletes to American legislators.

Thomas is a transgender woman who began her medical transition in 2019 when she started hormone replacement therapy, which entails the intake of estrogen or testosterone to adjust the person’s hormone levels to match their gender identity. 

Opponents of transgender athlete inclusivity efforts often claim HRT does not cancel out the genetic advantages of being assigned male at birth, yet hormone therapy significantly affected Thomas’ athletic performance.  

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Thomas detailed that she lost an inch of her height and a significant amount of strength as she continued HRT — which she has been on for the past three years — and knew she could not come close to her race times prior to her transition. 

The NCAA’s guidelines state that a female transgender athlete’s testosterone levels must be below a certain range through the use of HRT in order to be eligible to participate in women’s events. To follow these requirements, Thomas skipped the 2021-22 season during her transition to compete in the 2022 NCAA Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships.

At the championships, Thomas’ performance in the 500-yard freestyle was a season best and just about 9 seconds short of Katie Ledecky’s all-time record. However, that was not the most impressive aspect of this year’s championships, as 27 records overall were broken at the meet — none of which were by Thomas herself. 

The outrage over Thomas’ title and overlooking the other details of the tournament seems to be indicative of how many critics seem to only care about Thomas’ identity as a transgender athlete when she wins a title, as opposed to the many times she has faced defeat.

Either way, the media spotlight shone brightly on Thomas after her championship win, where her identity as a woman was attacked ceaselessly by onlookers, one of whom was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis called Thomas’ swimming title “a fraud” and signed a proclamation declaring runner-up Emma Weyant as the true winner of the title.

The Floridian governor has a record of passing anti-transgender legislation — last June, DeSantis enacted a bill called the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which bans transgender girls from playing on female sports teams in public schools. The law would also subject transgender athletes to invasive examinations and genetic testing and requires that birth certificates showing “assigned female at birth” status be shown in order to join female sports teams.

Following the controversy surrounding Thomas’ win, Pennsylvania House Republicans are also proposing a similar bill in Pennsylvania that would ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s teams in high school and college sports teams.

The debate surrounding the rights of transgender athletes has been taking over America, yet transgender athletes remain resilient and continue to fight for the right to do what they love.

 

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