Trans saga part of discrimination crisis facing women, claims ex-Olympic champ lawyer


The civil rights lawyer and US Olympic legend has suggested trans swimmer Lia Thomas has a greater advantage than the German athletes involved in a notorious doping program

Three-time Olympic gold medalist and civil rights lawyer Nancy Hogshead-Makar has issued a lengthy argument against what she sees as the potential for transgender swimmers such as Lia Thomas to gain a “grossly unfair” advantage over rivals born as women.

Campaigner Hogshead-Makar, who earned her hat-trick of titles alongside a silver medal at the 1984 Games in her homeland, has said that the East German athletes who boycotted those Olympics amid a doping scandal did not have as much of an advantage over athletes born as women as transgender competitors do under current National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules in the US.

Transitioned University of Pennsylvania athlete Thomas has been at the center of a huge storm after being allowed to compete in female competition because she has taken hormone suppresants since going through puberty.

Thomas has broken records in the pool and won with ease in several of her races, leading to a row over whether the rules should be changed and accusations of discrimination from trans rights advocates.

Governing body USA Swimming announced on Wednesday that an updated policy on transgender athletes, using a three-person medical panel to determine whether competitors’ “prior physical development” gives them an unfair advantage, would be implemented immediately alongside a requirement for 36 months of testosterone testing before competitions.

“As an Olympic champion and as a civil rights lawyer, I can assure you that there is nothing fair about transgender woman Lia Thomas competing for the University of Pennsylvania in NCAA swimming,” said Hogshead-Makar, who is the boss of equality group Champion Women, writing in Swimming World Magazine.

“Worse, her domination of the ‘women’s sports’ category is doing nothing to engender greater empathy for inclusive practices throughout society for the trans community.

“Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination, permits sex-segregation in sport – which means that, for the most part, men compete against men, and women compete against women.

“Title IX gave me a fair opportunity to win and set records, as well as access to money, accolades, and leadership opportunities.

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Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas. © Getty Images
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“If Congress and courts had forbidden sex-segregated sports, the way race and religious segregation is prohibited, I would have qualified for my high school team, but I’d never have been the Hall of Famer that I became. I doubt I’d have competed past high school.

“Now imagine if all schools were only responsible for sponsoring one sports team and they put their best students — regardless of gender — on that team. How many girls and women would make it?

“For sure, millions of girls and women would lose out on the educational experience that participation in sports provides. An experience which is also linked to economic success and life-long health.

“Trans women should compete with biological women, so long as they can demonstrate that they have lost their sex-linked, male-puberty advantage prior to competition in the women’s category.

“Lia Thomas cannot make that demonstration. While she has apparently been complying with NCAA rules requiring hormone therapy for over two-and-a-half years now, she is still competing with an unfair advantage.”

Hogshead-Makar said her time on the US team between 1976 and 1984 had been affected by East German swimmers “cheating with anabolic steroids” and claimed that her success at the 1984 showpiece, which “changed the trajectory” of her life, owed much to their boycott of the event.

“In all my years competing with East German women who were doped to the gills, they were only slightly better than the best biological women; not one of them were competitive with men,” she said, citing data showing that the likes of Olympic great Michael Phelps hold a tiny edge over their nearest rivals compared to the advantages transitioned men purportedly have over biologically-born women.

“Moreover, if I had tested positive for testosterone, I probably would have suffered a four-year suspension from international competition. But if I tested positive twice? I’d be banned for life.

“Because the World Anti-Doping [Agency] knows that long-term testosterone use produces legacy effects that last much longer than just during the time it is used.

“Critics of mine will likely ask: what about the goals of transgender inclusion in sport? We know that transgender students are subject to bullying and high rates of suicide.

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US swimmer Brooke Forde weighed in on the transgender row. © Getty Images
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“The argument is that girls and women should step aside and make way for transgender athletes to compete in the ‘girls’ and women’s’ sports categories, considering the blatant discrimination they face.

“I say — no. Girls and women shouldn’t give up their hard-won sports opportunities, no matter how real the harms suffered by transgender athletes.

“Allowing transgender women to change the meaning of the women’s category makes as much sense as allowing 180-pound athletes into the 120-pound weight category, because larger athletes were subject to awful bullying and harassment.

“Or allowing adults to compete against children, or only permitting impoverished nations compete in the Olympics.

“Sport has been set up as binary with males and females, and sport needs to adapt by adding new events and classifications, rather than throwing out the meaning of the ‘girls’ and women’s’ categories.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar at the 1984 Games © Getty

“Rather than trying to squeeze transgender athletes into one-of-two categories, male or female, sport needs to adapt.”

The 59-year-old said it would be hugely unjust if Thomas breaks Olympic records, pointing out that the prospect was not a standout athlete among men while adding that male puberty cannot be “rolled back” in a year.

“We produce data — for athletes, families, alumni and donors – which demonstrates just how badly 90% of colleges and universities are discriminating against women,” Hogshead-Makar said of her organization.

“In total, women are denied over 183,000 opportunities to play collegiate sports, they’re denied over a billion dollars in athletic scholarships, and hundreds and millions of dollars in treatment, meaning women aren’t being given equal facilities, locker rooms, medical care, publicity, travel, and so forth.

“The unwritten rule is that women’s sports can exist, so long as not a single male is harmed by women’s inclusion.

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Kristi Noem © Scott Olson / Getty Images
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“And yet, notice that women are expected to graciously move over and let trans athlete-inclusion change the meaning of the ‘women’s sports’ category.

“It is sexist; we’d never allow the meaning of NCAA ‘men’s sports’ category to change so that current NFL and NBA teams could be included.

“We’d never allow 25-year-old men to compete in boy’s high school events. And we would never tell those boys to just ‘work harder’ if they wanted to win.

“I am ready to hear men’s outrage. I am ready for men to step up and make sports equality happen for women’s sports.

“Lia Thomas has shown all of us that the current rules are not fair and forcing her into the women’s category only engenders resentment.

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Lia Thomas © Hunter Martin / Getty Images

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