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University, Ivy League release statements supporting trans swimmer following backlash

Photo of University of Pennsylvania transgender female swimmer Lia Thomas. Courtesy University of Pennsylvania Athletics
Photo of University of Pennsylvania transgender female swimmer Lia Thomas. Courtesy University of Pennsylvania Athletics
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PHILADELPHIA (TND) — Teammates, parents, celebrities, and a whole slew of others have been loudly critical of the inclusion of a transgender athlete on the University of Pennsylvania's women's swim team, especially after she smashed records and qualified for the 2022 NCAA Championships.

But UPenn stands by its swimmer, Lia Thomas, saying in a recent statement it is committed to being "welcoming" and "inclusive" for all its student-athletes.

"We fully support all the student-athletes and coaches in our swimming & diving program and look forward to the team's continued success this season," UPenn says in a statement released on Thursday.

UPenn says in its statement it is "governed" by the NCAA and its policies, and Thomas has "met or exceeded" all of the policies set for transgender athletes. Thomas previously competed as a male for the university men's swim team, but has undergone testosterone suppression treatment for at least a year before competing for the women's team, which is in compliance with the NCAA's policies.

She will continue to represent the Penn women's swimming team in competition this season," UPenn says.

Joining the university in support of Thomas, the Ivy League says in its own statement it "welcomes" Thomas' inclusion in women's swimming and "looks forward to celebrate the success of all of our student-athletes throughout the season."

The Ivy League also echoed UPenn's commitment to being welcoming and inclusive but added it seeks to condemn "transphobia" and "discrimination" as well.

Harvard also chimed in, saying it "stands with Penn Athletics, and the Ivy League, in the support of all student-athletes and in rejecting hate and transphobia in our community" in its own tweet.

But some of those student-athletes, ones who compete on the same team as Thomas, see her inclusion as unfair, or wrong. Speaking anonymously in separate interviews with, one teammate says most of the team spoke to coaches about Thomas, saying she thinks "secretly everyone just knows it’s the wrong thing to do", another teammate says other swimmers are often crying and upset when competing against Thomas.

They feel so discouraged because no matter how much work they put in it; they’re going to lose. Usually, they can get behind the blocks and know they out-trained all their competitors and they’re going to win and give it all they’ve got," the teammate said in her interview. "Now they’re having to go behind the blocks knowing no matter what, they do not have the chance to win. I think that it’s really getting to everyone.

Parents of Thomas' teammates penned a letter to the NCAA requesting Thomas be banned from women's swimming competitions, saying her involvement sets a "precedent" which "is a direct threat to female athletes in every sport." One parent anonymously told Thomas's teammates desire to speak up and share their issues with her inclusion, but also fear being "ostracized" if they do.

"Everybody is scared," the mother reportedly said. "Parents are also scared that the kids will be harmed. We are paying $80,000 for this school. Their life will be impacted."

Thomas also faces criticism nationally, and her competing in collegiate women's swimming has become a nationwide controversy.

The editor-in-chief of Swimming World Magazine wrote an article titled "Allowing Lia Thomas to Compete At NCAA Championships Would Establish Unfair Setting" and said while Thomas "deserves the opportunity to continue racing, and to pursue the sport without vicious attacks against her character and identity", the transgender athlete "should not influence what unfolds" at the 2022 NCAA Championships.

An editorial written by the New York Post titled "Dominating in women’s sports as a trans athlete is fundamentally selfish" focuses on Thomas, saying she's "not a hero."

"Most of the women are too afraid to speak out against this. But they must." said American journalist and political commentator Megyn Kelly in a tweet featuring an article concerning Thomas.

A veteran USA swimming official recently resigned in protest of Thomas' inclusion in the sport, saying Thomas is negatively impacting women's swimming and her competing in meets is unfair.

The fact is that swimming is a sport in which bodies compete against bodies. Identities do not compete against identities," Cynthia Millen said on The National Desk. "Men are different from women, men swimmers are different from women, and they will always be faster than women.

But Thomas and her teammates have seemingly set aside any differences as the season draws to a close. Photos published by show Thomas and teammates training together to prepare for their season's final home meet. They were doing so "secretly" though, with the university reportedly urging its athletes to not wear any school apparel which would draw attention to them.

Thomas will be competing in the 2022 NCAA National Championship after qualifying in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time that set a new program, meet, and pool record and also beat her teammate, who placed second in the event, by 38 seconds.

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