Lopez: Stop questioning the legitimacy of transgender athletes

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(Graphic Illustration by Falyn Sebastian | The Collegian)

Dominique Lopez, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

From a young age, we’re taught we can play sports, be a part of the arts or just simply be anything we want. If we chose to play those childhood sports, that often meant we played on small coed teams; that was the norm.

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It wasn’t until we reached our middle and high school years that teams began to be shaped by gender.

As athletes begin to compete at the collegiate level, the sports get more intense, and athletes start competing for national titles and being recruited by scouts from professional leagues. Yet no matter how passionate the athlete may be, many transgender athletes face unfair criticism and discrimination for merely continuing to play the sports they love.

Lia Thomas is one of those transgender athletes who chose to continue competing in swimming, a sport she loves, and her name became known nationwide after she won her first NCAA Division I national title in the women’s 500-yard freestyle event by a margin of 1.75 seconds.

Thomas has been in the spotlight for months, especially since USA Swimming came out with a new policy about transgender swimmers requiring collegiate, trans woman athletes to have only a certain amount of testosterone in their blood in order to compete. This spotlight only increased following Thomas’ title win.

So why is the title of a transgender woman who has followed all the rules to be able to compete so highly debatable? NCAA rules required that Thomas be on hormone-blocking drugs for a year, which Thomas complied with.

Trans athletes are constantly being held to different standards. Schuyler Bailar, the first openly transgender male NCAA swimmer, received incredible backlash despite his great performance. CeCe Telfer, the first transgender woman to win an NCAA title, received similar backlash, and more recently, she was banned from competition this year at the Olympic trials because of her testosterone levels.

“Equality for everyone is important, and athleticism equality should be undoubtedly a part of that as well. Sports are supposed to be for anyone, and just because these athletes don’t compete under the category of the sex they were assigned at birth doesn’t mean their chances to compete should be taken away.”

Just because Thomas won a title as a trans woman doesn’t mean all she has fought for as an athlete and all she has done to get to this place in her sport should be taken out of consideration.

Thomas, despite what the media says, is a woman who was allowed to compete in the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships because she followed NCAA guidelines. That simple fact should be enough to allay any challenges to her title and further cement the comments about her gender as unwarranted.

Many professional athletes, no matter their gender, haven’t had to fight as hard as these three transgender athletes have to for legitimacy. These dreams of success felt so attainable to us as children and should not be taken away because someone doesn’t fit into the old, outdated vision of society.

Despite all that stood in her way, Thomas chose to block it all out and focus on her sport, knowing her dreams wouldn’t end just because she chose to transition.

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Equality for everyone is important, and athleticism equality should be undoubtedly a part of that as well. Sports are supposed to be for anyone, and just because these athletes don’t compete under the category of the sex they were assigned at birth doesn’t mean their chances to compete should be taken away. You can do anything you set your mind to, and that is how these athletes — and all transgender athletes — should continue to live their lives.

Reach Dominique Lopez at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @caffeinateddee6.