Controversy over transgender swimmer ahead of Championships at Georgia Tech

Lia Thomas could become the first known transgender athlete to win a NCAA Division I National Championship.
Published: Mar. 15, 2022 at 6:19 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - There’s controversy surrounding a qualifying collegiate swimmer ahead of the NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships at Georgia Tech.

If she’s successful in the pool this week, Lia Thomas could become the first known transgender athlete to win a NCAA Division I National Championship. The University of Pennsylvania student is a favorite to win individual titles in the 100, 200 and 500-yard freestyle events, but not everyone is cheering for the 22-year-old.

“This is not a positive thing,” said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a four-time 1984 Olympic medal winner in women’s swimming.

Hogshead-Makar is the CEO of Champion Women, an organization that advocates for women sports. She’s working with Women’s Sports Policy Working Group on two petitions, asking Congress and sport governing bodies to prioritize competitive fairness for biological women.

“We have to pay attention to biology and science in order to make it fair,” Hogshead-Makar said.

Hogshead-Makar wants biological women to have their own category, arguing that an induvial born male has an unfair advantage over women.

“It’s either you’re going to prioritize fairness for biological women, half the population, or you’re going to fair inclusion into women sports which is just not fair,” she said. “You have this clash between biology and science and ideology.”

In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, Thomas said, “I’m not a man. I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets.”

Joanna Hoffman is with Athlete Ally, an organization that works to ensure sports are LGBTQI+ inclusive at all levels. She believes separating trans athletes is “othering” them, adding that it also ignores the fundamental fact that every athlete is different.

“Someone being a good swimmer for example has to do with dexterity, access to nutrition and coaching, access to training facilities, all of these different components,” Hoffman said. “She is a really talented athlete who has trained hard to see the success that she has.”

Rather than singling out trans athletes, Thomas’ supporters said critics should focus their efforts on proven issues that are plaguing women’s sports such as unequal pay and sexual abuse.

“These are the proven threats to girls and women sports,” Hoffman said. “[Thomas] is someone who has feelings and deserves to be treated with compassion and respect.”

“I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Hogshead-Makar responded, implying it’s possible to tackle several issues at the same time.

The NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships is March 16-19 at McAuley Aquatic Center on Georgia Tech’s campus. Thomas’ first event will be held Thursday morning.