Lia Thomas, University of Pennsylvania swimmer, has spoken out months after she was thrust into the middle of international debate about whether transgender women should be allowed on female sports teams.
After setting numerous records during the 2021-2022 college swimming season, Thomas, now 22, has been the focus of international intrigue. She has been criticised by other elite swimmers, including Michael Phelps , the Olympic champion , and some her own teammates. Also, she has been subject to verbal attacks from conservative media outlets and anti-trans groups.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated published Thursday, the college senior spoke out about her sexuality, shared her Olympic dreams, and responded to the untold number of criticisms she has received for being a woman.
She stated that she was not a man and gave the simple answer to the magazine. "I am a woman so I belong to the women's team. Trans athletes deserve the same respect as any other athlete.
Thomas shared that she started questioning her gender identity in Austin, Texas, near the end her high school years.
She said that she felt "off" and was "disconnected from my body."
Thomas was a Penn freshman and sophomore, and she researched her feelings online and consulted her family -- who said to the magazine that they would do anything to make Thomas feel accepted.
She accomplished more than most college swimmers could ever imagine during that time: She was awarded multiple All-Ivy spots, grew closer to her goal of swimming at NCAA championships, and almost qualified for the 2020 Olympic trials.
Thomas said that she was still "very depressed" at the time.
"I reached a point where I could not go to school." She said that she was missing classes. My sleep schedule was very messed-up. Some days, I couldn't even get out of bed. "I knew then that I had to do something about it."
Thomas made it known to her teammates, coaches, and friends during her junior year. She had to still compete on Penn's men’s team in order to conform to NCAA policy.
Thomas joined her school's women’s team in late 2021 after she took a gap year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there was internal resistance.
Two of her teammates spoke anonymously to OutKick and said that they were against her participation, deeming it unfair. Last month, 16 women from Penn's diving and swimming team wrote a letter to Ivy League and Penn expressing disapproval at Thomas participating in the Ivy League championships.
Some Penn parents have also expressed outrage at Thomas's inclusion on the women’s team. According to one Penn parent, Thomas' participation on the women’s team is against their progressive beliefs.
The parent of Lia, who was not identified by the magazine, stated that Lia is a human being and should be treated with respect. "But it isn't transphobic for me to say that I disagree with her swimming location."
Thomas stated that she believes half the team are against Thomas taking part in women’s competitions. She said six to eight people are in favor.
She is unaffected.
Thomas stated, "I don’t look at the negativity or the hatred." "I'm here to swim."
Thomas and her relay team came third in the 800-yard freestyle relay during a string of achievements at the Ivy League championshipslast Month. During the tournament, she also set an Ivy League Record in the 200-yard Freestyle.
After the athletic association declared that it would not adopt USA Swimming’s stricter new policy regarding transgender athletes, Thomas will be competing in the NCAA championships. This announcement came before this year’s championship selections. The magazine also heard from Thomas, 22 years old, that she hopes to compete at the 2024 Paris Games.
Thomas stated, "I don’t know what the future will look like for my swimming after this year. But I would love to keep doing it." "I want to swim as I am and compete in swimming."
Thomas said that she hopes to make trans athletes more visible and have opportunities. This is because many state legislators across the country are trying to limit their participation in sports.
Freedom for All Americans, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ protections across the country, has reported that more than 92 anti-trans legislation have been introduced by state legislators this year. Many of these bills are designed to prohibit trans athletes from participating on girls' or women's sporting teams.
According to the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, ten states have enacted such laws -- all since 2020. At least two other states, Iowa and Indiana, have bills on their governors that would restrict trans students' participation in sports.
She stated that she wanted to share her feelings with trans children and young athletes. They don't have the choice between their sport and who they are.
Thomas was a former interviewee for Sports Illustrated. She had only given one interview with SwimSwam and declined many interviews with NBC News.
After months of reading hate stories, advocates called it a " nationwide hate campaigns". On Thursday, the trans community was thrilled to hear directly from Thomas.
"The media coverage about Lia Thomas has been so negative and one-sided. It's amazing to finally hear Lia in her own words, which shows her struggles through it all," Alejandra Caraballo , trans advocate wrote on Twitter. It's an amazing story about Lia discovering her true self, and how she competes in the sport that she loves.