Why Lia Thomas, Transgender Swimmer, is Allowed to Compete in Women's Events

Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old transgender woman from Pennsylvania, is breaking numerous college records in women's swimming but is the subject of fierce debate because of her status as a transgender athlete.

Thomas—who's competing as a senior after the Ivy League establishment—won three events in Ohio earlier this month and swam the fastest time in the country in two of those races.

Her performance has been criticized by some sports fans, as well as conservative commentators and even some of her competitors, who argue that transgender athletes should not be allowed to compete in cisgender categories of their choice, as it might create an uneven playing field.

"Pretty much everyone individually has spoken to our coaches about not liking this. Our coach [Mike Schnur] just really likes winning. He's like most coaches. I think secretly everyone just knows it's the wrong thing to do," an anonymous female Penn swimmer told the OutKick website on December 9.

Transgender activists and Thomas' university have supported Thomas competing in the womens' swimming, saying that such claims are discriminatory and exclusionary.

Thomas is allowed to compete and is following the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which organizes in 23 spots at over 1,000 colleges and universities.

This season is the first time Thomas has competed in the swimming in the University of Pennsylvania's women's team. Thomas previously competed on the University of Pennsylvania's men's team for three years. Thomas' last known men's event was November 16, 2019. The 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NCAA Policy for Transgender Student-Athlete Participation guidelines, which were established in 2010, say Thomas would not be allowed to compete as part of a women's team "until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment."

Conversely, athletes that were born female remain eligible to compete in women's sports unless or until they begin a physical transition using testosterone.

The NCAA does not require gender confirming surgery or legal recognition of a player's transitioned sex in order for transgender players to participate on a team that matches their identity.

Newsweek has contacted the NCAA for further comment.

Several states in the U.S.—including Arkansas, Florida, Idaho and Texas—have moved to crack down on transgender athletes competing in female sports at schools.

Trans students in those states will now be forced to play on sports teams that correspond to the gender assigned to them on their birth certificate. LGBTQ+ rights groups have criticized these bills, saying they are discriminatory.

Lia Thomas
Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old trans woman from Pennsylvania, is breaking numerous college records in swimming but is the subject of fierce debate because of her status as a transgender athlete. Thomas is allowed to compete and is following the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which organizes in 23 spots at over 1,000 colleges and universities. Newsweek US