Culture

Lia Thomas Is the Face of Controversy Surrounding Transgender Women in Sports

The swimmer’s success has vexed even those who support her transition.

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Lia Thomas is the center of controversy concerning transgender women in sports. Following her three victories in NCAA women’s swimming events last week, including the 500-, 200- and 100-yard freestyle, renewed attention has been directed to the debate about the balance between fair play and inclusion.

Thomas’ success has vexed even teammates who claim they support her transition. Earlier this month, an anonymous letter representing 16 of her 40 Penn teammates read that they saw her as an “unfair advantage.” In addition, reports by CNN claim they “supported her gender transition out of the pool but not necessarily in it.” Michael Phelps also expressed his views on the topic: “I believe that we all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin, but I think sports should all be played on an even playing field.” He continued: “I don’t know what that looks like in the future, [but] it’s very complicated.”

However, the swimmer has also gained an overwhelming amount of support. In a letter written in response to the aforementioned petition, 300 current and former NCAA athletes voiced their stance on the matter: “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.”

Although studies published in Sports Medicine have found “no consistent research of trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers,” USA Swimming has since imposed stricter guidelines following Thomas’ record-setting pace at the Invitational held in January. Trans women are now required to undergo three years of hormonal therapy and provide medical proof that they do not possess a competitive advantage over cisgender women.

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