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Penn, Ivy League double down on support of biological male trans-identified swimmer Lia Thomas

Indoor swimming pool
Unsplash/miljko

The University of Pennsylvania and the Ivy League are backing the decision to allow trans-identified swimmer Lia Thomas to swim in women's competitions amid concerns about the biological male athlete's participation.

Thomas, a senior who had previously competed for years on the men's team, has drawn much backlash while competing on the Penn women's team this season. The athlete's participation led to one USA Swimming official resigning and members of Penn women's swim team speaking out in the press about what they perceive as an unfair disadvantage. 

The University of Pennsylvania issued a statement Thursday, stating that "Penn Athletics is committed to being a welcoming and inclusive environment for all our student-athletes, coaches and staff and we hold true to that commitment today and in the future."

The university said it is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, one of several associations regulating collegiate sports in the U.S., and "is governed by the policies of the national governing body."

"Lia Thomas has met or exceeded all NCAA protocols over the past two years for a transgender female student-athlete to compete for a women's team," the statement continued. "She will continue to represent the Penn women's swimming team in competition this season."

The university assured that it "fully" supports "all the student-athletes and coaches in our swimming & diving program and look forward to the team's continued success this season."

The Ivy League, the collegiate athletic conference to which Penn is a member, also issued a statement last week, saying it "reaffirms its unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form."

"The league," it added, "welcomes her participation in the sport of women's swimming and diving and looks forward to celebrating the success of all our student-athletes throughout the season."

After Thomas broke records in the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio, last month, Cynthia Millen, a veteran USA Swimming official of three decades, resigned.

Millen contends that trans-identified biologically male athletes should not be allowed to compete in women's swimming meets.

"I told my fellow officials that I can no longer participate in a sport which allows biological men to compete against women," Millen wrote in a resignation letter, according to Swimming World. "Everything fair about swimming is being destroyed. If Lia came on my deck as a referee, I would pull the coach aside and say, 'Lia can swim, but Lia can swim exhibition or a time trial. Lia cannot compete against those women because that's not fair.'"

In an interview with OutKick, a Penn swimmer, who spoke anonymously due to fear of retaliation from potential employers for sharing "her honest opinion about a transgender teammate," alleged that "[p]retty much everyone individually has spoken to our coaches about not liking this."

"Our coach [Mike Schnur] just really likes winning," the anonymous swimmer added. "[H] e's like most coaches."

"I think secretly everyone just knows it's the wrong thing to do," she added. "When the whole team is together, we have to be like, 'Oh my gosh, go, Lia, that's great, you're amazing.' It's very fake."

Thomas' teammate pushed back on the policy of the NCAA regarding trans-identified athletes.

Specifically, the NCAA allows "a trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication" to compete on women's sports teams after "completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment."

"One year doesn't mean anything," the female athlete declared. "What about the years of puberty as a male, the male growth you went through as a man?"

So far, Thomas' best times as a female swimmer are still slower than the best times achieved by the athlete when competing as Will Thomas on the Penn men's team.

Most recently, Thomas won the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle events at the tri-meet against Yale and Dartmouth over the weekend. In that same meet, Thomas finished fifth in the 100-yard freestyle. The race was won by Yale's Iszac Henig, who is transitioning from female, The Daily Mail reports

Thomas first made headlines by winning the women's 1,650-yard freestyle at the Zippy Invitational in Akron by 38 seconds, setting two women's records. 

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