UPenn Women's Swimmers Protest Transgender Teammate

Swimmers say Lia Thomas has 'unfair advantage' over biological females

Lia Thomas (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)
February 4, 2022

Members of the University of Pennsylvania women's swim team this week petitioned school officials to bar transgender swimmer Lia Thomas from competing as a woman, claiming she has an "unfair advantage" over female peers.

Sixteen swimmers wrote to school and Ivy League officials Thursday asking them not to fight an NCAA directive that could prevent Thomas, a biological male, from competing as a woman. The swimmers say they "fully support" Thomas for changing genders, but note she has an "unfair advantage" over female opponents.

"Lia has every right to live her life authentically," the letter reads. "However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone's gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category."

Thomas has sparked an outcry against NCAA policies that allow male-to-female transgender athletes to compete in women's sports. A group of Thomas's teammates considered boycotting Penn’s last home meet of the season in January, the New York Post reported. The NCAA soon after updated their guidance for transgender athletes, giving the governing body of each sport the ability to determine policies regarding transgender athlete participation.

Parents of several University of Pennsylvania swimmers in December asked the NCAA to reexamine guidance that allows transgender athletes to compete on sports teams based on their "gender identity" after just one year of hormone therapy. The policy puts the "integrity" of women's competition "at stake," parents said in their letter.

Thomas competed on the University of Pennsylvania's men's swimming team for two seasons before deciding to change genders in 2019. As a sophomore, Thomas placed second in the 500, 1000, and 1650 yard freestyle races at the 2019 Ivy League Championships.

The NCAA canceled competition during Thomas's junior year due to the coronavirus pandemic, giving the swimmer time to complete the hormone therapy required by the NCAA to compete as a woman. After joining the women's team last fall, Thomas smashed school records in the 200, 500, and 1650 yard freestyle races.

In January, Thomas lost to Yale's Izzi Henig, a female-to-male transgender athlete who has forgone hormone therapy to continue to compete as a woman. Some speculate that Henig threw the race to avoid controversy.

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, published in 2020, found that transgender women remained stronger and faster than their peers after one year of hormone therapy.

The NCAA dismisses these claims as "not supported by evidence."