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Ivy League and Penn support transgender swimmer Lia Thomas

The Ivy League and the University of Pennsylvania have released statements in favor of Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer whose recent record wins have placed her at the center of the debate over the inclusion of trans in competitive sports.

Lia Thomas.Penn Athletics

The statements were posted on Twitter just two days before Thomas returned to the pool on Saturday, when Penn will host Dartmouth College and Yale University.

“For the past several years, Lia and the University of Pennsylvania have worked with the NCAA to follow all appropriate protocols to comply with the NCAA Policy on Participation of Transgender Athletes and Competing on the Women’s Team. Penn’s swimming and diving. Ivy League, the athletic conference of eight universities in the Northeast, said in a statement. “The Ivy League reaffirms its unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in all its forms.”

Penn issued a similar statement affirming his “commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive environment for all” student-athletes. The statement added that Thomas has “met or exceeded” all NCAA protocols for female transgender athletes over the past two years.

“She will continue to represent the competitive Penn women’s swim team this season,” the statement said.

Guidelines for transgender female athletes released in 2011 by the NCAA, which governs intercollegiate athletics, state: team status until the end of one year of testosterone suppression therapy.

Thomas declined an interview, but said on the SwimSwam podcast that she had been on hormone therapy for over 2.5 years when she started competing on the women’s team in November.

Her participation has become central to the debate over the inclusion of trans in the sport after setting records in at least three events at the Zippy Invitational in Ohio last month. His times in the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle were the best in the country this season, according to Penn Athletics. In the 1,650-yard freestyle in particular, she was 38 seconds ahead of her teammate Anna Kalandadze, who was second. Right-wing media shared a video of Thomas winning the race on social media.

Some critics argue that Thomas’ performance is proof that the NCAA guidelines are not strict enough, and that Thomas and other trans women have inherent physical benefits that they receive from testosterone during endogenous puberty, or puberty associated with the sex assigned at birth.

John Lohn, editor-in-chief of Swimming World magazine, wrote last month in an editorial claiming that the current NCAA guidelines requiring the use of testosterone suppressants for a specific length of time “are not rigid enough and do not produce a authentic atmosphere of competition.

“Obviously one year is not enough time to provide a level playing field,” he wrote. “Athletes who go from male to female have the inherent benefit of years of testosterone production and muscle building.”

Joanna Harper, visiting researcher for trans athletic performance at Loughborough University in England, who published the first analysis of trans athlete performance in 2015, told NBC News last month that the NCAA athlete guideline trans women was “perfectly reasonable” and that it “will result in significant competition between trans women and cis women,” or women who are not trans.

The conversation about Thomas is part of a larger national political debate. Last year, more than two dozen states considered bills prohibiting K-12 and college trans student-athletes from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identities, for example opposition to the sex assigned to them at birth. The governors of 10 states – only nine last year alone – have signed the bills.

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