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Speak the truth, even when it hurts

Christiana Holcomb | Returning to fairness in women’s sports requires courage from female athletes


Yale’s Iszak Henig (left) and Penn’s Lia Thomas (center) compete at the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard University in February. Associated Press/Photo by Mary Schwalm

Speak the truth, even when it hurts

Even if you missed the announcer’s carefully scripted warning against “transphobic discrimination,” you saw the same message every time you looked at the swimmers’ starting blocks. A large banner read “8 Against Hate,” representing the eight schools participating in the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in February.

And if you somehow didn’t catch either of those points, it was impossible to miss the lone male athlete with his broad shoulders and towering 6-foot-4 frame lined up next to his female competitors. University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas—a male who competed on the men’s team for three years before identifying as female and joining the women’s team—won three individual events and broke six records at that women’s conference championship meet and has now gone on to win handily the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships last month.

You also couldn’t miss another competitor at the February meet: Yale’s Iszac Henig, a female swimmer who identifies as male and has undergone a double mastectomy but competes on the women’s team. Henig, who won the 50-yard freestyle swim, wants to be referred to with male pronouns, while Thomas, a male, wants to be referred to with female pronouns, creating a rather confusing situation for the announcers. But for many viewers, it was more than just confusing. There was no mistaking that something wasn’t right.

There was also no mistaking the message forced upon everyone: To be inclusive, you must fully support these athletes’ choices. And in Thomas’ case, don’t you dare question this male’s effect on his female competitors.

We are bombarded by athletic, cultural, media, and educational messages that deny the reality that human beings are created male and female. Just last month, Adidas launched a new commercial celebrating women’s athletic accomplishments, including that of a volleyball player who can now “compete as a trans woman.”

While Adidas, the Ivy League, and other elite institutions celebrate and congratulate themselves on their bold new vision of “sex,” it’s women who suffer. For many females—several of whom I have the privilege of representing in my role with Alliance Defending Freedom—the presence of a male in their sport reminds them of just how unfair it is to compete against someone with inherent physical advantages, of the records they would have broken had not a male set an impossibly fast time, and of how girls are the ones who are overlooked, demeaned, and sidelined when society ignores reality.

We are bombarded by athletic, cultural, media, and educational messages that deny the reality that human beings are created male and female.

Thankfully, not everyone is comfortably sitting on the sidelines watching this injustice unfold.

The mother of a woman on the Penn swimming team is bravely speaking out, albeit anonymously, to protect her daughter. In a recent interview, the mother provides emotional testimony about how her daughter and her teammates were “manipulated [and] coerced” by the university and urged not to speak against Thomas joining their team.

The mother recalled the sickening feeling in her stomach at the Ivy League championships as, “day after day, we watched as a young lady was replaced in a final swim, replaced on the podium, erased from a record, a relay spot, and finally, replaced for Swimmer of the Meet … by a man.”

She went on to recount how her daughter “took two days to emotionally prepare to race Lia. She spent the time writing down her thoughts, working through her emotions, trying to prepare mentally for standing in front of a crowd, next to a man when everyone present knew the race was unfair, but no one would speak.”

And now a swimmer on Thomas’ team has also come forward anonymously to express how unfair the situation was, explaining that she and other teammates were “shocked that this was … actually happening and that there was going to be no one to step in … and assist the situation. We were just kind of made to accept it and not question it or say anything.”

These women and so many others must remain free to tell the truth without being canceled. We know from the very beginning of Scripture that there is purpose, beauty, and intention in how God created the male and female sexes. Though equal in dignity and worth, we are not the same. Declaring that truth will always be the right response to the increasing confusion and outright lies the world throws at us.

If ever there was a time for girls, parents, coaches, politicians, teachers, and other concerned individuals to raise their voices, it’s now. As the mom of the Penn swimmer concluded, “Now that I see it, now that I know, I desperately want people to wake up to the world we are creating for women.” The world had better wake up fast.


Christiana Kiefer

Christiana Kiefer is legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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