Factsheet for Reporters: UPenn Swimmer Lia Thomas and Her Participation as a Transgender Woman

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February 14, 2022

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas is expected to swim at the Ivy League championships in Massachusetts beginning February 16th and has qualified for the NCAA championships in March.

Thomas, who is a transgender woman, has complied with all policies and protocols to participate in the women’s swimming category. Her eligibility has been affirmed by the NCAA, UPenn, the Ivy League and supported by her teammates and hundreds of professional, Olympic and college women athletes. Facts about Lia Thomas and the issue of transgender participation in sports to include in your coverage:

  • Thomas followed all NCAA guidelines in place at the time of her transition and afterward to be eligible to swim for a women’s collegiate team.
  • The NCAA announced on February 10th that Thomas is eligible for the 2022 women's swimming and diving championships in March. 
  • More than 300 current and former NCAA, Olympic and international swimmers and divers signed a letter of support for Thomas to the NCAA on February 10th: “we express our support for Lia Thomas, and all transgender college athletes, who deserve to be able to participate in safe and welcoming athletic environments. We urge you to not allow political pressure to compromise the safety and wellbeing of college athletes everywhere.”
  • UPenn issued a statement affirming Thomas’ inclusion on the women's team, stating on January 6th that she "met or exceeded all NCAA protocols."
  • The Ivy League issued a statement of support on January 6th: "Lia and the University of Pennsylvania have worked with the NCAA to follow all of the appropriate protocols in order to comply with the NCAA policy on transgender athlete participation and compete on the Penn women’s swimming and diving team. The Ivy League has adopted and applies the same NCAA policy. The Ivy League reaffirms its unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form. The league welcomes her participation in the sport of women’s swimming and diving and looks forward to celebrating the success of all of our student-athletes throughout the season.” 
  • The International Olympic Committee issued new guidelines in November 2021 encouraging safety and inclusion for transgender athletes, and stated that no athlete should be excluded from competition based on “unverified, alleged, or perceived unfair competition advantage.” Principle 5: No Presumption of Advantage states that “athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.”
  • The NCAA Board of Governors approved updates to its transgender student-athlete participation policy on January 19th, a policy that had been in place to welcome transgender inclusion since 2010. The updated NCAA policy calls for “transgender participation for each sport to be determined by the policy for the national governing body of that sport, subject to ongoing review.” 
  • Athlete Ally, HRC, GLAAD and others sent a letter to the NCAA on January 19th demanding that protections stripped in the latest version of the NCAA constitution be reinstated to protect student-athletes from discrimination based on age, color, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion, creed or sexual orientation.
  • On Feb. 1, before the collegiate swim season was complete, USA Swimming announced new guidelines for transgender athletes, requiring lower testosterone thresholds for a longer period (at least 36 months) and requiring elite athletes to provide evidence that going through puberty as sex assigned at birth “does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.”
  • Thomas' teammates issued a statement of support on February 1st, expressing “full support for Lia in her transition” and said they “value her as a person, teammate, and friend.” Another letter sent to the Ivy League on February 3rd, led by an outspoken critic of Thomas' inclusion as a transgender woman, was reportedly signed by other teammates, anonymously, asking the Ivy League not to challenge new regulations announced mid-season that would likely restrict Thomas' participation.
  • The NCAA overruled USA Swimming on February 10th, stating that “There will be no changes to the NCAA's previously approved testosterone threshold for transgender women to compete at the 2022 women's swimming and diving championships.”
  • The NCAA Administrative Subcommittee of the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports found that “implementing additional changes at this time could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in 2022 NCAA women's swimming championships” as the policy was “released after the start of the four-week window in which schools could submit required eligibility documentation (e.g., testosterone lab results). The subcommittee noted the four-week window was designed to provide schools and student-athletes adequate time to consider eligibility requirements and related health care options and to safely obtain documentation.”
  • Leading women athletes and athletes for equality and equity in women’s sports, including the Women's Sports Foundation, support transgender people playing sports as their authentic selves. The Women's Sports Foundation submitted a legal brief in support of transgender college athletes, signed by some of the biggest icons in sports, including Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, and Candace Parker.
  • At least 170 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures around the country in 2022, with at least 43 bills attempting to ban transgender children from participating in sports. Research shows states which include transgender children in sports have higher rates of girls participating in sports than states with bans. More than 90% of bills targeting LGBTQ people and children failed in 2021. 85% of transgender youth reported decreased mental health from the barrage of bills and rhetoric targeting their access to healthcare, sports, and the bathroom.
  • At least 27 states are seeking to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. Every major medical association supports gender affirming care as safe, effective and lifesaving, and supports sports participation for children's physical and social growth and wellbeing.
  • Groups with histories of advocating against LGBTQ people are now targeting transgender people in sports, including filing baseless claims. Activists from a designated hate group filed lawsuits with demonstrably false claims to attack transgender inclusion in state-level bills, and coordinating identical language bills to target transgender children's access to healthcare and sports. Some groups proposing transgender sports policy have no transgender representation in its leadership or policy-making teams.