Lia Thomas made history last week when she became the first-known transgender athlete to win an NCAA title. She won the 500-yard freestyle event at the 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming & Diving Championship, with a season-best time of four minutes and 33.24 seconds.
But not everyone was quick to celebrate her achievement. News of her historic win instead sparked debate about whether transgender athletes should get to compete in elite sports.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation Tuesday saying that the second-place athlete and Florida resident, Emma Weyant, is the “rightful” holder of the NCAA title.
DeSantis stated that the NCAA’s actions in allowing a transgender athlete to compete amounted to the perpetuation of “fraud against women athletes as well as the public at large.”
“Women have fought for decades to have equal opportunities in athletics, and it is wrong to allow ideology to erode these opportunities,” he wrote. “Florida rejects the NCAA’s efforts to destroy women’s athletics, disapproves of the NCAA elevating ideology over biology, and takes offense at the NCAA trying to make others complicit in a lie.”
While DeSantis declared Weyant the rightful winner, he has no real authority to change the results.
DeSantis is seen as a top contender for the Republican nomination in the next U.S. presidential election. He is also no stranger to targeting members of the LGBTQ2 community.
In June, DeSantis signed a law that prohibits anyone assigned male at birth from competing in women’s sports in Florida. His state’s legislature and Senate have also passed a controversial law known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. If signed by DeSantis, who has already expressed support for the legislation, primary schools in Florida will be banned from classroom instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation.
The bill has sparked numerous protests.
Erica Sullivan, Olympic silver medallist and one of Thomas’s competitors in the 500-yard freestyle, published an opinion piece in Newsweek supporting the swimmer who, Sullivan writes, has been unfairly targeted for her gender.
“As a woman in sports, I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women’s sports are: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources and a lack of women in leadership. Transgender girls and women are nowhere on this list,” she wrote.
Weyant, who is also an Olympic silver medallist, has not commented on DeSantis’s proclamation.
Neither has Thomas, who simply said after her victory last week: “I try to focus on my swimming, what I need to do to get ready for my races and just try to block out everything else.”
USA Swimming updated its policy on transgender athletes this February to mandate that they must go through three years of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) before being able to compete.
Thomas has only undergone two-and-a-half years of HRT, but the NCAA ruled that it wouldn’t adopt USA Swimming’s policy since it came into effect midway through the season.