The University of Pennsylvania has nominated transgender swimmer Lia Thomas for the NCAA’s “Woman of the Year” award after the athlete has broken a number of women’s swimming records, igniting conflicting strains of controversy and sympathy in the public sphere.
Senior Thomas, who competed on the men’s team for three years before beginning to identify as a woman, has the best time for women’s swimming in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, The Christian Post notes, and also won a 1,650-meter freestyle event by a full 40 seconds.
Videos and photos of Thomas’ noteworthy physical advantage over competitors in the pool have been widely shared to highlight concerns that allowing trans athletes in women’s sports inevitably displaces hard-working female athletes.
Thomas has thus become the poster child for the issue of trans athletes in women’s sports and has both graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and featured in a sympathetic interview on the one hand and prompted a USA Swimming official to retire in protest to policies allowing Thomas to compete.
A number of Thomas’ teammates have spoken to the media anonymously, citing concerns ranging from sharing a locker room with an intact male who is admittedly still attracted to women to disadvantages experienced by competitors and athletes vying for positions on the team when sharing a track with an athlete who has gone through male puberty.
“Lia has every right to live her life authentically,” a number of team members wrote in an open letter earlier this year. “However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.”
The NCAA’s “Woman of the Year” award is “an important opportunity to honor and reflect on the impact of women on intercollegiate sports,” the organization highlighted when announcing the nominees, which include Thomas among 577 other graduating seniors who have competed in women’s college athletics.
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