The controversial male-to-female transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has been nominated for NCAA’s Woman of the Year.
The award "honors the academic achievements, athletics excellence, community service and leadership of graduating female college athletes," according to the NCAA's website. Since it was established in 1991, there has never been a biological male nominee. Thomas beat out around 219,000 biological female competitors for the nomination.
Lia, formerly William, began transitioning in 2019 before the swimmer's junior year at the University of Pennsylvania after years of competing as a man. Thomas gained national spotlight after winning the Women's Division I Swimming and Diving Championships 500-yard freestyle event in March, leaping from a 65th ranking as a man to the first place spot as a woman and breaking Ivy League records.
Nearly 60 percent of Americans believe biological males should not be allowed to compete in collegiate or professional women’s sports, according to a June Washington Post poll.
In January, the NCAA Board of Governors mirrored the International Olympic Committee’s guidance on trans athletes, allowing the governing bodies of sports to make their own gender-qualifying rules. FINA, the international water sports federation, had not yet announced their new transgender policies by the time Thomas was permitted to compete and erase records set by outstanding biological women.
The Woman of the Year nominee pool will eventually be narrowed to 30 finalists, with the winner selected in January. Each NCAA member school has the opportunity to nominate up to two athletes for the honor, though a second has to be an "international student-athlete or student-athlete of color."
The NCAA selects the Woman of the Year based on athletic and academic performance as well as a personal statement and service and leadership work. Thomas holds a national title, so his athletics score is the highest possible on the selection scale.
The service and leadership section asks nominees to list special recognitions received. Thomas has been mentioned in hundreds of news articles since 2019 and was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated earlier this year.
Thomas’s Olympic dreams were dashed last month when FINA banned post-puberty male-to-female transitioners from competing as women. Thomas now plans to attend law school and become a civil rights attorney, citing experiences with gender discrimination.