Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas Says 'I Belong On The Women's Team'

Transgender college swimmer Lia Thomas has spoken out about the antagonism she has faced as an athlete who competes on the women's team.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, the 22-year-old University of Pennsylvania swimmer 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."

The young athlete became the center of controversy last year amid the debate around whether trans women should be allowed to compete against their cisgender counterparts.

The senior student-athlete has competed on the men's team for three seasons. After coming out to her friends and family, Thomas began hormone replacement therapy in 2019 in spite of concerns about the impact it would have on her body and her ability to partake in her sport.

In accordance with NCAA policies, Thomas was permitted to join the women's swim team following a year of hormone replacement therapy.

Though her place on the team was in keeping with the rules, the decision sparked backlash. Thomas became the focal point of discussions by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, USA Swimming, and right-wing commentators who criticized her for being allowed to compete alongside women who are not trans.

Thomas' interview with Sports Illustrated comes less than a month after 16 of her teammates anonymously sent a letter to the University of Pennsylvania and the Ivy League arguing that Thomas should not be permitted to compete as she could break "Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete."

"We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically," read the letter, per The Washington Post.

"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, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female."

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