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University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas speaks out about backlash, future plans to compete

PHILADELPHIA – Leah Thomas, a trans woman who sparked controversy while competing on the women’s swimming team at the University of Pennsylvania, said she intends to continue swimming with her eyes on the Olympics.

“I’m going to keep swimming,” Thomas told ABC News’ Juju Chang in an interview with Good Morning America on Tuesday. “It was my goal to swim in the Olympics for a long time and I would love to see it.”

Thomas, of Austin, Texas, won gold in the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships in March, becoming the first female swimmer in Penn history to win an individual national title. according to the university.

After competing for three years on the Penn Men’s Swimming Team, Thomas also made history in that race as the first trans athlete to win an NCAA Division title in any sport.

RELATED: Penn Quakers’ Lia Thomas Wins Ivy League Swimming Championships

“My goal was to be in this match and do as well as I could,” said Thomas, who has played in three league games. “So being able to fulfill this personal goal and be in this meeting as well as the kind of fulfillment of the competition as an authentic self was just an amazing experience, to have these things that I have been working on for so long concentrate. “

Thomas, who was appointed a man at birth, said he fell in love with swimming at the age of four, but as he grew older he said he felt more and more disconnected from her body, explaining: “I did not feel like a boy.”

“When I was little, my mom always described me as a very happy kid,” Thomas said. “And then somewhat in high school and high school, as I was going through adolescence, which changed a little bit, with transgender gender discomfort, but I did not, did not yet know or had a language to describe it.”

RELATED: “I’m a Woman”: UPenn transsexual swimmer Lia Thomas shares the story in an interview with Sports Illustrated

After high school, Thomas won a place on the men’s swimming team at Penn, her dream school.

But by her sophomore year in college, Thomas said her gender discomfort plunged her into deep depression and she struggled with suicidal thoughts.

“I was just going to class. “I could hardly get out of bed,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I can no longer live like this.’ I want to live again. “I want to be able to do things that I enjoy.”

Thomas said the fear of not being able to compete in the sport he loved prevented her from going first.

By 2019, however, at the end of her second year, Thomas said she had begun hormone replacement therapy, a “sex-confirming treatment” [that] uses female hormones to create a more feminine look “. according to the Cleveland Clinic.

“The mental and emotional changes actually happened very quickly,” Thomas said. “I felt much better mentally. I was less depressed.”

He continued, “And I lost muscle mass and became much weaker and much, much slower in the water.”

Thomas began swimming in the Penn Swimming Team at the beginning of her third year, following NCAA guidelines that athletes must complete one year of hormone replacement therapy to change their gender.

Control over Thomas grew as he became more successful in the pool.

Responding to critics who say Thomas made the move to win more swimming medals, he reiterated that this is not the case.

“Trans people do not go to the track,” he said. “We go to be happy and authentic and our true selves. Going to gain an advantage is not something that ever influences our decisions.”

RELATED: UPenn swimmer record sparks debate over trans athletes

In January, the NCAA updated the transgender fitness guidelines to say that each sport’s national governing body could establish its own rules. Previously, the NCAA had a single hormone therapy requirement in all sports, according to ESPN. USA Swimming, the national governing body of the sport, has been using a review committee to make individual case-by-case assessments since 2018.

The NCAA then announced that it would wait until next season to enforce the new guidelines, which paved the way for Thomas to compete as a woman in the 2022 NCAA Championships.

In February, just one month after the NCAA announcement, 16 of her Penn teammates and some of their parents signed an anonymous letter claiming it posed a threat to women’s sports. The letter stated that while the signatories supported Thomas’s right to transition, they considered it unfair to compete with cisgender women.

“You can not go halfway and be like ‘I support trans women and trans people, but only to a certain extent,'” Thomas said in response to letters from her teammates. “When you support trans women as women, they have met all the NCAA requirements, then I do not know if you can really say that.”

He continued, “trans women are not a threat to women’s sports.”

While the science for transgender athletes is new and evolving, some medical experts say that the effect of higher testosterone in male adolescence can never be completely ruled out.

Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic told ABC News that with hormone therapy, there are physical aspects of men that can remain in trans women. For a swimmer like Lia Thomas, these physical aspects can be “activated” due to the sport.

“There will be some loss of skeletal muscle mass, there will be some increase in body fat – these would be the two most obvious things,” Joyner said. “But things like arm size, lung size, foot size – this is not going to change much. And of course, because as you know, swimming is such an intense sport and people train so hard that will continue to have a significant exercise stimulus in these skeletal muscles. “

Despite the fact that there is evidence of what happens in the body of a trans person after hormone therapy, Thomas said that she sees herself in the context of other athletes, who vary in size, strength and ability.

“I’m not a medical specialist, but there are many differences between cis athletes,” he said. “Are there cis women who are very tall and very muscular and have more testosterone than another cis woman, and that should exclude them?”

The controversy surrounding Thomas’s swimming career has involved more than a dozen states, including Oklahoma, Arizona and Florida, imposing bans to prevent transgender students from participating in sports that match their gender identity.

Research by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that trans young people often report feeling isolated and excluded in academia. This discrimination puts them at increased risk for poor mental health, suicide, substance abuse, violence and other health risks.

Thomas said she does not see it as an acceptable option to prevent trans people from competing in sports or to limit them to competing only with each other or with themselves, such as in a separate lane, for example.

“Apart from not being allowed full sports experience, this is incredibly different for trans people who are already facing huge discrimination in other parts of our lives,” he said. To make that distinction in sports again and be like, ‘Oh, okay, you can swim, but only there, like in that lane.’ It’s very different. “

Speaking about her own experience of waiting longer for the transition because she wanted to compete in swimming, Thomas added, “I do not think trans people should make that decision. It’s something that has caused me a lot of personal stress and I do not want any more. trans people to face this choice “.

Thomas graduated from Penn in May and said she plans to attend law school, in addition to continuing to compete in hopes of reaching the 2024 U.S. Olympic teams.

The culmination of her graduation from college, according to Thomas, was hearing her name as Lia Thomas.

“When I really got on stage and heard them say my name and pass by, it was very nice,” she said, describing her emotion at the time as “pure joy”.

Copyright © 2022 ABC News Internet Ventures.

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University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas speaks out about backlash, future plans to compete Source link University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas speaks out about backlash, future plans to compete

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