Should transgender women be allowed to compete in women’s sports?


Lia Thomas’ victory in the women’s 500 meter freestyle has helped add fuel to the fire surrounding the debate on who should be allowed to compete in women’s sports.

Riley Carroll, Staff Writer

Trigger Warning: Mention of discrimination based on gender identity.

Recently, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer, 24-year-old Lia Thomas, became the first transgender woman to ever win an NCAA Division I title. Following Thomas was University of Virginia’s 20-year-old Emma Weyant in second place, 1.75 seconds behind Thomas. Thomas is cleared to compete in women’s swimming due to exceeding the NCAA’s hormone therapy requirement for transgender athletes; however, because of Thomas’ perceived physical advantage, Weyant was declared the ‘rightful’ winner of the championship by many. But is she really?  

Along with countless others, transgender celebrity and notable conservative Caitlyn Jenner denounced Thomas and recognized Weyant as the champion instead. In response to Pink News’ tweet, “Caitlyn Jenner launches yet another disgraceful attack on transgender athletes without a hint of irony,” Jenner tweeted back, “No, I just had the balls to stand up for women and girls in sports.” If Jenner claims she is standing up for women, shouldn’t she be standing up for all women, including those that are a part of her own transgender community? If Caitlyn Jenner seemingly can’t accept herself and Thomas as “real” women, she definitely can’t accept the idea of transgender people participating in sports.

Sharing aligning opinions with Jenner is Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed the controversial House Bill 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. In DeSantis’ tweet from March 22, he wrote, “In Florida, we reject these lies and recognize Sarasota’s Emma Weyant as the best women’s swimmer in the 500m freestyle.”

In the unwavering opinion of numerous people in opposition to Thomas’ win, it is an unquestionable truth that men have biological advantages over women when it comes to physical power and athletic ability, yet Olympic gold medalist and NCAA 500-yard freestyle record holder, Katie Ledecky, “is simply more gifted than everyone who swam in the finals … including Thomas, who fell nine seconds short of Ledecky’s 2017 finish.” The nine-second gap between 25-year-old Ledecky and 24-year-old Thomas is considerably larger than the 1.75-second gap between Thomas and 20-year old-Weyant. In swimming, a nine-second gap is an eternity. While Thomas was able to defeat Weyant by a sliver, Ledecky verifies that Thomas is not unbeatable by a biological woman.

In another aspect, gifted cisgender athletes like Michael Phelps may have a physical advantage over their other cisgender competitors of the same sex. In Phelps’ case, he has an abnormally long wingspan in relation to his height, his body produces less lactic acid than usual and his lung capacity is allegedly twice that of the average human. Throughout Phelps’ astronomically successful career, he has been praised for his incredible ability. Yet, a genetic advantage in sports is a problem when it comes to the transgender community.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine, one of the highest-ranking journals in sports medicine, released a study regarding the difference in physical ability between transgender people and cisgender people. Dr. Timothy Roberts, a pediatrician and the lead author of the study, concluded that two years of hormone therapy allows for a level playing field for the elite, Olympic-level sports. In an interview with NBC News, Dr. Roberts explained that after two years of hormone therapy, “[transgender women] were fairly equivalent to the cisgender women.” Thomas surpassed her two-year milestone on hormone therapy and is approaching her third year in two months, as she has been on gender-affirming hormone therapy since May 2019.

Additionally, according to the Mayo Clinic, people who undergo feminizing hormone therapy experience, “… decreased muscle mass. This will begin three to six months after treatment. The maximum effect will occur within one to two years.” Although Lia Thomas is an extremely gifted swimmer, she has likely already lost a considerable portion of muscle mass since beginning her transition, decreasing the chance of any physical advantage she is rumored to have.

Regardless of whether spectators consider Thomas to be the true victor or not, the International Olympics Committee’s Framework on Fairness, Inclusion, and Non-Discrimination on the Basis Of Gender Identity and Sex Variations, posted by the NCAA media centers, states, “Every person has the right to practice sport in a way that respects their health, safety, and dignity … No athlete should be precluded from competing or excluded from competition on the exclusive ground of an unverified, alleged or perceived unfair competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance, and/or transgender status.” This confirms that Thomas has the right to compete and that she won fairly in accordance with the current rules and policies.

Many in support of Thomas and her history-making win would agree that respecting Thomas’ freedom to express her gender identity by allowing her to swim in the women’s championship is far more valuable than any minute difficulty this may bring to cisgender female athletes. Above all, respect other people for who they are and how they identify.