Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas Begins Legal Case Against World Aquatics 

Lia Thomas is a transgender swimmer who has begun official legal proceedings against World Aquatics, the governing body of swimming, after they voted to restrict transgender athletes from competing in elite women’s aquatics competitions.

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Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has begun legal proceedings against World Aquatics, swimming’s governing body, after the group voted to restrict transgender athletes from competing in elite women’s aquatics competitions, according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and reports from CNN.

World Aquatics gender inclusion policy was officially put into place in June of last year, according to the international court body. The biggest goal for Thomas in these proceedings is to overturn the policy, which specifically dictates that transgender female athletes can only compete within women’s categories if they transition before the age of 12 or before they reach stage two of the puberty Tanner Stages. 

In a news release, the court stated that “Ms Thomas accepts that fair competition is a legitimate sporting objective and that some regulation of transgender women in swimming is appropriate.”

“Ms Thomas submits that the Challenged Provisions are invalid and unlawful as they discriminate against her contrary to the Olympic Charter, the World Aquatics Constitution, and Swiss law including the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”

“Such discrimination cannot be justified as necessary, reasonable, or proportional to achieve a legitimate sporting objective,” the release continued. Water Aquatics oversees aquatic competitions in swimming, water polo, diving, artistic swimming, open water swimming, and high diving. The policy also states that transgender males that have previously used testosterone as a part of their gender-affirming hormone treatments could only compete in women’s competitions if the testosterone was used for less than a year in total, or if the treatment didn’t take place during puberty and testosterone levels are in pretreatment levels. 

Water Aquatics also promised to create an open category of events for athletes who may not meet the criteria for men’s or women’s categories. The group established an open category for transgender athletes at a World Cup event in Berlin for “all sex and gender identities.” 

“For this inaugural event, the emphasis is on gaining further experience for future development and celebrating diversity,” according to the governing body. Dane Diamond, the director of policy and programs for Athlete Ally, an advocacy group which battles transphobia and homophobia in sports, who spoke with CNN this week.

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“World Aquatics’ transgender policy causes profound harm to trans women, who are particularly vulnerable in society and suffer from high rates of violence, abuse, and harassment in society and in sport.”

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“The ban is not a fair, proper, or reasonable balancing of rights. It is grossly disproportionate and has the effect of excluding virtually all trans women athletes from international aquatics,” Diamond stated

The debate over transgender athletes’ inclusion in sports initially started when Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer who initially competed on the school’s men’s swimming team in 2017 before joining the women’s team in 2020. At the time of her transition in 2019, the NCAA required transgender athletes to have one year of hormone replacement therapy in order to compete. 

In 2022, 16 members of the University of Pennsylvania’s swim team sent a letter to the university asking them not to challenge the NCAA’s new transgender athlete participation policies. That would prevent Thomas and other trangender athletes from competing. 

Despite that backlash, Penn Athletics and the Ivy League emphasized their support for Thomas and other transgender athletes in an open letter signed by over 300 current or former swimmers. The letter defended Thomas and her ability to swim. 

Swimming on the women’s team, Thomas was the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division 1 title after she won the women’s 500-yard freestyle event in March 2022.