16 Penn. Swimmers Say Trans Teammate Lia Thomas Should Not Compete: She Has 'an Unfair Advantage'

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Lia Thomas
Lia Thomas

Hunter Martin/Getty

Sixteen members of the University of Pennsylvania's women's swimming team have asserted their transgender teammate, Lia Thomas, should not be allowed to compete in an upcoming competition.

On Thursday, the members of the team — whose names have not been disclosed — sent a letter to school and Ivy League officials, asking them not to take legal action against the NCAA's recently updated transgender policy, according to The Washington Post.

The new ruling, Sports Illustrated reported, would potentially prevent Thomas, 22, from competing in the NCAA championships next month.

"We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically," the letter from the teammates states, per the Post. "However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone's gender identity."

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Noting that "Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women's category" due to her "biology," the teammates then pointed out how Thomas increased in her rankings "from #462 as a male to #1 as a female."

"If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women's Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete," the group added.

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Lia Thomas
Lia Thomas

Hunter Martin/Getty

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According to the Post, the letter signed by the female athletes was then sent by Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic swimming gold medalist, lawyer and chief executive of Champion Women, a women's sports advocacy organization.

Hogshead-Makar told the outlet that she was the one who sent out the letter so that the team would avoid any "retaliation." In their letter, the athletes alleged that they were told they would be "removed from the team or that we would never get a job offer" if they spoke against Thomas, per the Post.

Thomas previously competed for the Pennsylvania-based school's men's swimming team for three seasons before her transition, the Post reported. She then began to swim for the women's team after undergoing more than two years of hormone replacement therapy.

After she received faster times than her teammates in two events, the 16 swimmers alleged in their letter that Thomas' involvement on the team takes away "competitive opportunities," including spots in an Ivy League championship meet.

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The letter from the sixteen athletes opposing Thomas' involvement in the upcoming events came about days after multiple other members of the swimming team voiced their support for Thomas after she was reportedly subject to opposition from another team member, according to ESPN.

"We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition," the athletes said, per the outlet. "We value her as a person, teammate, and friend."

They added, "The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds."

The statement, ESPN reported, was not signed by any team members, but a school spokesperson said it represented "several" members who make up the team. A representative for the University of Pennsylvania did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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Last year, Pennsylvania introduced HB 972, also known as the "Save Women's Sports Act," which calls for students to play on a team consistent with the sex they were assigned at birth. Thomas previously spoke about the impact of such legislation during a prior interview with Penn Today.

"One of my big concerns for trans people is feeling alone," said Thomas, who is the co-chair of Penn Non-Cis, an organization that provides community for trans and nonbinary people. "Even if you don't pay attention to the news… [about] states proposing and passing vicious anti-trans legislation, it can feel very lonely and overwhelming."

She added that she'd been swimming since the age of 5 and used the sport to cope, calling it "a huge part of my life and who I am."

"The process of coming out as being trans and continuing to swim was a lot of uncertainty and unknown around an area that's usually really solid," she continued. "Realizing I was trans threw that into question. Was I going to keep swimming? What did that look like?"

Thomas concluded, "Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding."