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Lia Thomas’ emergence in competitive sports has sparked a massive debate surrounding the fairness of transgender women competing against biological females. But as the debate heats up amid her aspirations to continue on to the Olympics, several major women’s rights advocacy groups have remained silent about their positions on the issue.
On Tuesday, Thomas appeared in her first televised interview with ABC News’ “Good Morning America” where she defended her position on the Penn women’s swim team, adding that “trans women are not a threat to women’s sports.”
“I knew there would be scrutiny against me if I competed as a woman. I was prepared for that but I also don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself and do the sport I love,” she said.
“Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves. Transitioning to get an advantage is not something that ever factors into our decisions.”
From left to right: Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania standing on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle as other medalists Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Forde pose for a photo at the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship on March 17, 2022, in Atlanta. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images, File)
Thomas’ comments reignited the conversation over the fairness of trans athletes competing against biological females.
Fox News Digital reached out to several women’s advocacy groups on the matter including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). Neither responded to repeated requests for comment.
In response to the same request, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) provided Fox News Digital in an email with its previously posted position on transgender athletes, which was to advocate “for inclusion of all girls and women” in sports, including allowing transgender athletes to “compete consistent with their gender identity.”
University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, right smiling on the podium after winning the 500 freestyle during the 2022 Ivy League Womens Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 17, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Kathryn Riley/Getty Images, File)
“The primary mission of the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) is to advocate for inclusion of all girls and women, which includes combatting any transgender athlete bans that limit opportunities and harm the development of both cisgender and transgender girls and women,” the statement read. “At the youth level (e.g., K-12), sports participation policies should focus on the ability for youth to play and compete consistent with their gender identity without additional regulations that could prohibit their access to sports.”
WSF previously released a similar statement in March 2021 in response to the Equity Act, a Democrat-backed bill meant to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“All too often many legislators and individuals raise the topic of transgender inclusion in sports as a reason to slow down the progress of this important Act. Many of these concerns and objections perpetuate misinformation around transgender athletes,” the statement read, in part. “Let us be clear, there are many real threats to girls’ and women’s access and opportunity in sports; however, transgender inclusion is not one of them.”
Lia Thomas after a fifth-place finish in the 200 Yard Freestyle during the 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship at the McAuley Aquatic Center on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology on March 18, 2022, in Atlanta. (Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images, File)
But, Director of the Independent Women’s Law Center Jennifer Braceras argued in response to the WSF’s statement that the inclusion of transgender athletes in competitive sports does take opportunities away from biological females.
“Allowing athletes like Lia Thomas into women’s competitions takes opportunities away from female athletes. Not just opportunities to win, but opportunities to compete at all. LGBTQ supporters Martina Navraliova and Caitlyn Jenner, both top athletes, understand that. It’s sad, and deeply ironic, that the Women’s Sports Foundation does not. If WSF favors sidelining female athletes to make room for biological males, it should probably drop the W from its name,” Braceras said in an email to Fox News Digital.
Thomas was at the center of an ongoing debate surrounding trans athletes’ participation in competitive sports when she began undergoing hormone therapy treatment to compete on the women’s swim team at the University of Pennsylvania, after competing on the men’s team for three years.
Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win a Division I national title in March when she defeated Olympic medalist and Virginia standout Emma Weyant by just over a second in the 500 free final, setting a program record in the process.
In her interview with “GMA,” Thomas expressed her intention to keep competing. “It’s been a goal of mine to swim at Olympic trials for a very long time, and I would love to see that through.”
The first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics was New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard.
Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand waving during a weightlifting event at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)
The 44-year-old was allowed to compete in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics after the International Olympic Committee found she had met all the guidelines for eligibility.
The IOC updated its transgender participation policy in November 2021 refraining from a focus on testosterone levels in determining eligibility, The Washington Post reported. The IOC urged the governing bodies of each individual sport to create the rules while offering assistance.
“Every athlete has the right to practice sport without discrimination and in a way that respects their health, safety and dignity,” the updated rules stated. “At the same time the credibility of competitive sport — and particularly high-level sporting competitions — relies on a level playing field where no athlete has an unfair or disproportionate advantage over the rest.”
In the wake of Thomas’ emergence on the women’s team, the NCAA updated its transgender inclusion policy in January, saying it will be determined on a sport-by-sport basis. If there is no national governing body for the sport, then the NCAA sport will follow the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) policy.