Lia Thomas Timeline: How the Heated Debate Over Transgender Inclusion Has Evolved

Lia Thomas Timeline: How the Heated Debate Over Transgender Inclusion Has Evolved

It has been eight weeks since University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas swam the fastest times in the nation in the women’s 200- and 500-yard freestyle and won the 1650 freestyle by nearly 40 seconds at the Zippy Invitational. Since then, Thomas has become the face of a heated debate regarding whether transgender female athletes should be allowed to participate in women’s athletics. Thomas was eligible to compete in women’s swimming events under a 2010 NCAA rule that granted eligibility for trans women who had completed one year of hormone therapy.

Since then, Thomas has made few public comments while much of the swimming world and even those outside of it have issued opinions on whether she should be allowed to complete as a female. Comments in support of Thomas’ participation have cited the importance of mental health and inclusion, while opponents of her participation have expressed the belief that her presence would create an unfair playing field for cisgender women.

Meanwhile, the NCAA took notice and issued new rules that could put Thomas’ ability to compete at the NCAA Championships in jeopardy, pending the publication of new participation guidelines from USA Swimming and FINA. Thomas will likely be required to submit to a testosterone level test four weeks prior to the championships, but she may be exempted from that rule because of the lateness of the change.

While new guidelines from USA Swimming and FINA on transgender participation remain pending, here is a recap of the major news regarding Thomas and transgender participation in NCAA swimming:

  • 2017-2019: Thomas competes for the University of Pennsylvania as a male, prior to transitioning.
  • 2019-2020: Thomas begins transitioning and undergoing hormone therapy. She still competes for the Penn men’s team in a few meets, not including the Ivy League Championships.
  • 2020-2021: The Ivy League cancels its athletics for the entire school year. During that time, Thomas continues to undergo hormone therapy, allowing her to become eligible to compete in women’s events under NCAA rules.
  • December 3-5, 2021: Thomas swims the fastest times in the nation in the 200 and 500 free at the Zippy Invitational.
  • Late December 2021: Penn parents write letters to the school and to the NCAA protesting Thomas’ participation on the women’s team.
  • December 24, 2021: USA Swimming official Cynthia Millen resigns in protest of Thomas competing (even though Thomas was not competing in USA Swimming-sanctioned events).
  • Late December 2021/early January 2022: U.S. Olympians begin speaking out on the situation; 2021 Olympian Erika Brown was against allowing “transgender females to compete against biological males,” while 2016 Olympian Jacob Pebley urged considerations of mental health in expressing support for Thomas.
  • January 8, 2022: Thomas wins two individual events in her final home meet at Penn.
  • January 15, 2022: The American Swim Coaches’ Association (ASCA) urges governing bodies to establish new transgender policies in support of fairness.
  • January 19, 2022: The NCAA introduces a new transgender participation policy, placing the onus on USA Swimming and FINA to determine regulations for swimming.
  • January 20, 2022: USA Swimming releases a statement announcing the NGB was working with FINA to develop new, uniform transgender policies.
  • January 22, 2022: Thomas posts two individual victories in Penn’s dual meet at Harvard.
  • January 25, 2022: Brooke Forde, one of Thomas’ primary competitors for the national title in the 500 free, says she will not have a problem racing against Thomas at NCAAs.

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