Sixteen law organizations at the University of Pennsylvania recently issued a statement in support of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.
Thomas, who is transitioning from male to female, has crushed much of her competition and broken records while representing the UPenn women’s team.
But Thomas “did not succeed because she is transgender,” the law groups claim in a letter published in The Daily Pennsylvanian. “She succeeded because of the hard work she has put in throughout her long swimming career, and because she is finally able to authentically be herself and race in a sport that she loves.”
The groups, which include If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, the Penn Law Boxing Club and Trans Empowerment & Advocacy Project, claim the “backlash” against Thomas is due to the current climate of “attacks on trans rights.”
Concerns about the unfairness of competitions (especially biological males competing against women) overlook “the broader conversation about the humanity of trans folks,” Athlete Ally’s Anne Lieberman says. “Trans athletes — Lia, in particular — deserve love, support, care, access to be able to swim. And Lia, like any other athlete, should be able to win and lose.”
The hysteria about transgender inclusion in sports that has been mounting over the past several years centers based on the perceived threat that trans athletes pose to sports. Specifically, the rhetoric and coverage surrounding Lia, and athletes like her, makes bad faith assertions that transgender women are inherently cheaters, and that if a trans woman athlete wins, she is dominating women’s sports and taking away opportunities from fellow female athletes. In reality, out of the over 200,000 women that compete in the NCAA each year, it has been estimated that only 100 are trans.
Nevertheless, these assertions have led to the introduction and enactment of legislation that employs stricter standards for the participation of transgender athletes than both the NCAA and the International Olympic Committee, often focusing on chromosomal makeup and sex organs. These discriminatory actions ignore the simple fact that transgender athletes have and continue to compete at the highest level of sports without incident.
The signatories go on to chastise the notion that being trans is a choice, and ask why other biological advantages, such as height differences among basketball players, “routinely go unquestioned”: Athletes “have as much say in their height as their gender identity.”