For the parents in the stands at last weekend’s Ivy League swim meet, there was only one way to describe it: “angry.” In the 48 hours since Saturday’s face-off of two “transitioning” athletes (one male-to-female, another female-to-male), much of the sporting world is still shaken.
The mums and dads who were there to witness it say they still can’t shake the image of one of the swimmers, Yale’s Iszac Henig, pulling down the top of his suit to reveal scars from a recent mastectomy. “I wasn’t prepared for this,” a shaken parent from the University of Pennsylvania told a reporter. “I can’t understand that.”
And they are not alone. News outlets everywhere were still trying to process a biological boy’s fallout on female hormones, University of Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas beating biological girls early in the season – smashing program, pool records and meeting. Thomas, who swam for three years on the U Penn men’s team, took women’s sports by storm in 2021 after announcing at school that he now identifies as transgender. By then, the parents were beside themselves, sending letters to the NCAA and the university demanding something be done. “What’s at stake here is the integrity of women’s sport,” they argued. “The precedent set – one in which women do not have a protected and fair space to compete – is a direct threat to female athletes in all sports.”
The association has not responded – a silence it may not have the luxury of repeating after that weekend when, as one parent put it, “A man just ran over the team feminine.” Then, making an already uncomfortable situation even more bizarre, Henig, a woman in transition to a man (but still swimming on the girls’ team), beat him up. If you’re wondering where the world is going, you’re not alone! Suddenly, the whole debate about women’s sports and our inherent biological differences has exploded — and whether or not it cancels the culture — fewer and fewer Americans are turning away.
Everyone from Olympic swimmers and commentators to former U.S. swimming officials are openly challenging the rules that destroy fair competition as we know it. Even the editor of the biggest sports magazine, “Swimming World”, published a scathing column, saying that a one-year testosterone hiatus is “not nearly tough enough to create a level playing field between Thomas and biological females [he] is racing.” He likens it to the doping problem the world has been trying to eradicate from sport, which isn’t exactly the same, admits John Lohn, but it’s “a result that could be just as damning”.
The thing is, scientists point out, you can’t undo the impact of puberty. Mayo Clinic physiologist Michael Joyner says that after ages 11 and 12, swimming girls and boys start to “diverge” when their bodies really start to change. Just because Thomas takes testosterone suppressants, he told the Washington Post, “doesn’t negate the hormonal impact of puberty.” This kind of strength doesn’t disappear overnight – nor does his greater lung capacity, bone density, built-up muscle mass, circulatory system, and a number of other known genetic advantages of men over women, says Cynthia Millen, former US swimming official. “Bodies swim against bodies. Gender identities don’t swim. He’s going to smash women’s Olympic records, and that’s not right.”
For the parents of these Ivy League swimmers, this has been an emotionally draining year. “All you’re waiting for is a fair chance,” one mother told a reporter anonymously, fearing reprisals. “There’s no chance this year. They train hard but know they can’t beat Lia.” As for the swimmers themselves, their hands are tied. “Almost everyone” went to see the coaches, two swimmers said confidentially. But when everyone is together, they feel compelled to flatter Lia’s accomplishments. Saddest of all, a girl on the team says she hopes when she has kids that she’ll only have boys, “because if I have girls who want to play sports in college , good luck. [Their opponents] are all going to be biological males saying they are female. Right now we have one, but what if we had three in the team? There would be fewer girls competing.”
For most athletes who watch the sports they love to crumble, silence is no longer an option. A growing choir of Olympians, like 2021 two-time medalist Erika Brown, are craning their necks to speak out in a very unforgiving culture. “It’s time to start defending women’s sport,” she said. “I don’t want to create hate, only [to] speak up for what is right: we cannot allow transgender women to compete against biological women.” Tennis great Martina Navratilova, who despite identifying as gay, has been at the forefront wrestling guard for women’s sport, defended Brown from criticism, tweeting, “Erika Brown is a brave woman to speak out while remaining competitive. She better not get canceled for that by anyone!!!”
Inspired by these positions, other swimmers and coaches began to pile in. Hall of Fame coach Dave Salo, Jeri Shanteau and Nancy Hogshead-Makar urged their peers to get in on the game. “I would say a majority of coaches would agree with me,” Salo told The Washington Times. “But again, they’re very concerned in a collegiate environment to speak out against something like that because they’ll be seen as transphobic or homophobic.”
The topic is “very uncomfortable for people,” Hogshead-Maker agreed. But it’s time to stop taking “the lazy exit”. Cancel culture is “scary,” understands Shanteau, but the tide has officially turned. In poll after poll after poll, the vast majority of Americans have these girls’ backs.
Even the transgender movement itself admits defeat! Last month, in a “messaging guide,” the Transgender Law Center lamented that no matter how the issue of transgender sports is phrased, “our opposition wins the debate over trans youth in sports against all arguments that we have tried on our side”. They can’t compete with the fact that FRC’s Mary Szoch (a former Division I athlete) points out, “Whenever a biological male plays a female sport, no matter who comes first, at least one female loses – the woman who is now sitting in the stands instead of on the bench.”
For anyone worried about the backlash for speaking out in this toxic environment, know this: there is an outpouring of support to protect genres as God made them. Just look at what’s happened in state legislatures, where brave leaders made 2021 a banner year for fairness in sports. And, based on last weekend’s encounter coverage, this is just the beginning. A group of four Pennsylvania lawmakers are already stepping up pressure for a hearing on their bill — HB 972 — immediately.
As Beth Stelzer of Save Women’s Sports said, “We’ve finally gotten to the point where the bullies can’t shut us up anymore. We’re enough.” Find out what you can do in your state by clicking on the map at Save Women’s Sports. Then send your own letter to the NCAA, urging them to change their transgender policy. A sample letter and contact details are available here.
Originally published at the Family Research Council.
Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council.