| Last updated
Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has spoken out against her critics, saying that she ‘belongs on the women’s team’.
Thomas has been the subject of controversy in recent months, with her dominance since joining the University of Pennsylvania’s women's team sparking debate about eligibility.
Following a series of record-breaking feats, some critics said they believe she had an unfair advantage as a competitor, having competed in the men’s division for three seasons before transitioning.
Others, however, stood in support of the swimming champion, describing the criticism as bigoted and discriminatory against transgender competitors.
Amid the ongoing debate, Thomas has spoken to Sports Illustrated about the controversy, and why she feels so compelled to keep going.
‘I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone,’ she explained. ‘They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love.’
In her first year swimming for the UPenn women's team, Thomas smashed a number of age-old American collegiate records.
Her performances in the pool resulted in an influx of complaints from rival swimmers – even her own teammates in some instances – claiming that she shouldn't be able to compete against other women.
The majority of the UPenn swimmers and parents in opposition decided to remain anonymous, something Sports Illustrated described as ‘telling’.
Then there are the online commenters – Thomas receives bigoted threats so freqeuntly that she’s taken numerous actions on social media, from turning off direct messaging on Instagram to avoiding mentions of her name online.
‘I don’t look into the negativity and the hate,’ she said, adding, ‘I am here to swim.’ Thomas also told her parents not to get involved in the negativity.
In response to those who claim to be ‘progressive’ and ‘supportive’ of Thomas while under the same breath saying that they oppose her eligibility as a female athlete, she said: ‘The very simple answer is that 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.’
Speaking about her journey to transitioning, Thomas discussed her feelings of dysphoria, which heightened during high school, especially after swim season.
‘I was very depressed,’ she said. ‘I got to the point where I couldn’t go to school. I was missing classes. My sleep schedule was super messed up. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew at that moment I needed to do something to address this.’
Although she initially avoided hormone replacement therapy due to the impact it could have on her swimming career, she decided to start in May 2019, explaining, ‘I did HRT knowing and accepting I might not swim again. I was just trying to live my life.’
As Thomas continued on her journey, she started to visualise a future – something she couldn’t have imagined before coming out.
‘I’m a woman, just like anybody else on the team,’ said Thomas. ‘I’ve always viewed myself as just a swimmer. It’s what I’ve done for so long; it’s what I love.
‘I get into the water every day and do my best.’
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Chosen for YouChosen for You
Most Read StoriesMost Read