Penn swimmer Lia Thomas has become the first out transgender person to win an NCAA Division I national championship.
With a time of 4 minutes, 33.24 seconds, Thomas prevailed in the 500-yard freestyle on Thursday. She was 1.75 seconds ahead of the second place winner, Emma Weyant.
But Thomas didn’t get the celebration most winners do. Her victory was reportedly met with polite, quiet applause, and she refused to attend the winner’s news conference.
Outside the arena, anti-trans protesters from a group called “Save Women’s Sports” chanted and held signs to oppose Thomas’s participation on the women’s team.
“I try to ignore everything as much as I can,” Thomas said after her victory. “I just try to focus on my swimming and do what I need to do to get ready for my race and just try to block out everything else.”
Thomas is only the second out trans woman to compete in NCAA women’s swimming, according to Outsports. Before transitioning, she was already a well-accomplished swimmer.
After two years of testosterone suppression treatment and meeting the other qualifications set by the NCAA, Thomas began participating in swimming as a woman this year. She expected there would be issues with her inclusion — but not as much as she has received.
Publications like Newsmax, Daily Mail, the Washington Examiner, Washington Times, and even local news broadcasters have used Thomas to attack the inclusion of a trans woman in sports. San Diego local channel KUSI-TV claimed it is “unfair” for Thomas to participate, while Fox News syndicated OutKick‘s article and had OutKick founder Clay Travis on Fox & Friends to share his argument against her inclusion.
Anti-LGBTQ activists and influencers such as Piers Morgan, Jesse Kelly, and Megyn Kelly have criticized her participation in sports as a woman. Many have accused Thomas of transitioning just so that she can dominate in women’s sports.
And in late December, a USA Swimming official named Cynthia Millen resigned after 30 years on the job in protest of Thomas’ participation on the Penn women’s team. Millen has continuously spoken out against Thomas, misgendering her at every opportunity and claiming she will be the end of women’s swimming as we know it.