Lia Thomas is known for being the first openly transgender swimmer to win an NCAA Division I national championship. Her swimming in the women's collegiate division has been a topic of controversy ever since. Riley Gaines has probably been the most vocal in terms of criticizing the participation of trans women in women's collegiate sports. She walked into the mainstream limelight when she openly took a stance against Thomas' swimming at the NCAA Championships.
On February 1, Gaines wrote an article for Fox News that saw her criticize the NCAA for their promotion of Lia Thomas. She wrote:
"Sport is a powerful platform to empower girls and women, but this National Girls and Women in Sports Day, I don’t feel empowered. I feel betrayed, belittled, and excluded from proper recognition. We should not have to add the term “biological” in front of the word women to address differences in performance and our separate categories."
February 1 is celebrated as the National Girls and Women in Sports Day every year in the States. The day is meant to commemorate the success and accomplishments of female athletes along with the struggles it took to get to the position they are in today.
Gaines wrote that women's accomplishments are being diminished by the actions taken by the NCAA:
"Unfortunately, the women’s sporting category is today being eroded by discriminatory policies that allow males who identify as women to compete on women’s teams and in women’s events."
Gaines faced off against Thomas while swimming for the University of Kentucky in the 200-meter freestyle at the 2022 NCAA championships. The two tied for fifth place.
"In my own personal experience swimming against Lia (formerly Will) Thomas at our NCAA Championships last year, I can wholeheartedly attest to the blatantly obvious unfair advantages and discrimination we faced as female athletes," Gaines said.
She further referred to the use of cancel culture to silence female athletes from speaking out against the participation of trans women in sports:
"Girls are reluctant to use their voices due to fear of retaliation. They are told they will never get a job or into a graduate program if they speak out. They are told their school has already made their stance for them.”
Thomas' nomination for the NCAA Woman of the Year award in 2022: Gaines' opinion
Earlier in January, Karenna Groff, a member of the MIT women's soccer team, was named the NCAA Woman of the Year. In the lead up to the award ceremony, the University of Pennsylvania nominated Lia Thomas for the award. The University of Kentucky nominated Gaines, who opposed UPenn's decision and tweeted:
"Being the real girl in that photo and also University of Kentucky’s nominee for NCAA WOTY, this is yet another slap in the face to women. First a female national title and now nominated for the pinnacle award in collegiate athletics. The @NCAA has made this award worthless."
The question of trans women in female sports is an ongoing one. Recently, nine organizations rallied to sue the NCAA for its conduct regarding the matter, asking them to take immediate action to protect women's sports. This included a letter drafted by attorneys on behalf of these organizations that demanded three key changes in their conduct.