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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Utah youth transgender athlete ban contributes to debate in athletics

Lia Thomas has faced adversity from competing with cis women, and in the following weeks, Utah overrides a veto a bill to ban trans athletes

By KATHERIN RAYGOZA – sports@theaggie.org 

Lia Thomas is a transgender athlete who is currently on the women’s swimming team for The University of Pennsylvania after competing for the men’s team for three seasons. In her first year competing this past season, she has set numerous records including school and Ivy League conference records. 

“I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone,” she said to Sports Illustrated. “They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love.”

Around the same time as Thomas was ready to compete in the NCAA swimming championships, Utah’s state legislature voted this March to override Governor Spencer Cox’s veto of a bill banning transgender girls from participating in female school sports. Cox, an LGBTQ ally who has been outspoken about his suport for LGBTQ rights in the past, vetoed the bill almost immediately after it passed. But, after a debate and protest, the state legislature voted to override the veto. This has re-entered the news amid the nationwide battle over transgender rights.

This new law, H.B. 11, will begin in full effect on July 1 but legislators said there is a high possibility of it being challenged in court. Legislators are aware of the fact that they will most likely face lawsuits, meaning that they will have to examine individual cases and evaluate each student’s physical characteristics, such as height, weight, testosterone levels and wingspan to determine eligibility.  

The ban — before the veto — received support from the majority of Utah lawmakers but fell short of the two-thirds needed to override it. 

“We are deeply disappointed and saddened at today’s votes by the Utah Legislature to discriminate against transgender youth to exclude them from participating fully on sports teams,” read a statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. “Litigation to stop HB11 from taking effect is now both necessary and inevitable to ensure Constitutional promises of equal protection for all Utahns.”

On Wed. April 6, a walkout was organized by students at West High School in protest of H.B. 11. Before the walkout, students asked for and were granted permission from the school administrators to gather outside the school’s main building.

“Trans kids get kicked out of their homes for being who they are,” non-binary West High School student Mar Arellano said to ABC 4. “They deal with hate crimes at school by teachers, by students.”

Their school’s only gender-neutral bathroom was vandalized and the faculty and students conducted a walkout in support for K-12 transgender students in Utah.

Some individuals, including cisgender NCAA athlete Riley Gaines, a University of Kentucky swimmer who tied fifth place with Thomas in the 200-yard freestyle NCAA championship last month, have expressed support for Thomas’ participation.

“I know I can’t speak for everyone but I’m almost certain that I’m speaking for a large majority of female athletes and this is just not okay. And it’s not fair,” Gaines said to the media. “It doesn’t suppress going through puberty as a male. Especially Lia who swam for three years as a male. It’s completely unfair and it’s a matter of equity really.”

After having taken a year of treatment to lower her testosterone levels to meet the requirements that the NCAA implements, Thomas was eligible to compete and win the women’s 500 meter freestyle final. The NCAA ruled that it wouldn’t be a good idea to include new rules midseason back in February, which is why they allowed Thomas to compete. 

“I don’t know exactly what the future of my swimming will look like after this year, but I would love to continue doing it,” Thomas says. “I want to swim and compete as who I am.”

According to the Movement Advancement Project, so far, 10 states in the U.S. have executed laws banning trans athletes from participating in school. Twenty-one other states have considered passing similar bills. With the recent headlines of Thomas, organizations and supporters on an international level are entering a crucial time in the fight for transgender athletes.

Written by: Katherin Raygoza — sports@theaggie.org  

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