Leah Thomas, who became the first transgender swimmer to win a major US college title earlier this year, has resisted criticism that she had an unfair advantage over her competitors.
Thomas won the NCAA 500m freestyle title in March. US swimming policy states that trans athletes must undergo three years of hormone replacement therapy before they are allowed to compete. Thomas missed that goal by six months when she won the title, but the NCAA, the governing body for college sports in the United States, decided not to adopt the rules of American swimming and was allowed to compete.
Thomas has largely remained silent during the competition, but did speak up in an interview with ESPN published on Tuesday.
“I think the biggest misunderstanding is why I moved,” Thomas said. “People will say, ‘Oh, I just turned in to get an advantage so you could win. “I have moved on to being happy, being true to myself.”
The former University of Pennsylvania athlete has received criticism and support from all over the sports world. In March, world athletics team president Sebastian Coe said transgender athletes pose a safety risk to women’s sports.
“Sex can’t trump biology. As president of the association, I don’t have that luxury. It’s a luxury that other organizations practically don’t have to deal with these issues,” Koe told the Daily Telegraph. peers that we’ve done, these regulations are the right approach.”
Republicans in the United States introduced legislation to limit the participation of transgender athletes in sports. They argue that they protect justice in women’s sports. Thomas does not agree.
“The competition of trans women in women’s sports does not threaten women’s sports as a whole,” Thomas said. “Transgender women are a very small minority of all athletes. The NCAA rules regarding trans women who compete in women’s sports have been in place for over 10 years. We have yet to see a massive wave of dominant trans women.”
Some have argued that transgender athletes should compete in their own category, but Thomas rejected such ideas in swimming.
“If you say you can keep up but you can’t sign up or you’re on extra track nine, that’s very different from transgender people,” Thomas said. “And it doesn’t give them the same level of respect and opportunity to play and compete.”
Thomas graduated from the University of Pennsylvania this month and plans to attend law school. She says her experiences encouraged her to pursue a career in civil rights.
“Having seen such hateful attacks on transgender rights through legislation, the fight for trans rights and gender equality is something I’ve become more passionate about and want to pursue,” she said.