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Lia Thomas is NCAA’s first Transgender D-1 National Champion

Despite the change in trans participation policies by USA Swimming that would have disqualified her, NCAA ruled Thomas was qualified to swim

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Lia Thomas, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, swam faster than any other woman in the 500-yard freestyle competition Thursday in Atlanta and made history by doing so. Not just because she finished in 4:33:24, more than a second faster than her closest competitor, but because she is an out transgender woman.

Her honor came at the Women’s Swimming and Diving National Championships, and despite rules that require her to speak to the news media following her win, Thomas spoke only to ESPN and “declined” attending the mandatory news conference, according to a spokesperson.

As for her victory, there are people who are plenty mad about it. When ESPN interviewed the 22-year-old, live, following the event, and some in the crowd booed.

“I didn’t have a whole lot of expectations for this meet,” Thomas told ESPN, according to a transcript of the interview provided by out nonbinary journalist Katie Barnes. “I was just happy to be here, trying to race and compete as best as I could.”

The ESPN correspondent asked the Austin, Texas native about competing “under the spotlight.” 

“I try to ignore it as much as I can. I try to focus on my swimming, what I need to do to get ready for my races and just try to block out everything else,” Thomas said. She added: ”It means the world to be here, being with two of my best friends and teammates and to be able to compete.”

The interview ended, and some in the stands booed. Among the parents and supporters from across the country were demonstrators from an anti-transgender inclusion organization, Save Women’s Sports. 

Activists against transgender inclusion protest outside the McAuley Aquatics Center on March 17, 2022 (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“It’s not right. It’s not fair,” Beth Stelzer, the group’s founder, told me amid a crowd of about 20 anti-trans protesters, waving signs and leading chants with a bullhorn outside the McAuley Aquatics Center on the campus of Georgia Tech.

“We are here to give these girls, parents, coaches, that are too afraid to speak up a voice, because women matter. We won’t say no. Save women’s sports!”

Beth Stelzer (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

Despite the change in transgender participation policies by USA Swimming that would have disqualified her, the NCAA ruled earlier this month that Thomas was qualified to swim. I asked Stelzer, who is an amateur powerlifter, about the fact that Thomas is competing fair and square, according to the NCAA.

“I think it’s cowardly,” said Stelzer. “I think that it has been driven by money and feelings, instead of doing what is right and what is right is protecting women.” 

According to one of the university officials keeping a close eye on the competing demonstrations, there were no altercations, no arrests, no injuries, and, he told me, he saw “no women in need of protecting.” He declined to give his name. 

Another official told me he needed to step in when one demonstrator “crossed the line.” More about that, after details of the meet. 

The 500 Free

Earlier in the day, Thomas led throughout her preliminary heat and extended her lead over Stanford’s Brooke Forde on the final lap to finish with her best time so far, 4 minutes, 33.82 seconds. Her previous best this year was 4:34.06. Stanford’s Brooke Forde finished second in the heat and sixth overall at 4:38.19. 

Then came the finals. Just after 6 p.m., Thomas and the field of eight swimmers were tightly packed for several laps, with Thomas trailing Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant of the University of Virginia for much of the heat. Then in the final laps, Thomas pulled ahead and finished more than a full second ahead of Weyant.

No one, including Thomas, set any NCAA or pool records Thursday. 

There was some applause and cheers from spectators, but the largest outpouring came as Weyant touched the wall, a repeat of what happened in the prelims when the crowd waited for the second-place finisher before they cheered. 

The crowd fell quiet when Thomas was introduced at the beginning of the finals, then resumed cheering for the other swimmers. During the award ceremony that followed the crowd’s boos for Thomas, her competitors and spectators politely clapped for her.

Trans History

Thomas is not the first trans NCAA competitor in Division 1. Kye Allums earned that title in 2010. She isn’t even be the first trans NCAA swimmer: Schuyler Bailar notched that moment in history in 2015 as the first trans athlete to compete on a DI men’s team.

Bailar, a friend of Thomas, was at the championships Thursday, cheering her on, along with others waving trans Pride flags. Also, there is one other NCAA All-American of note: In 2019, Olympic hopeful CeCé Telfer became the first NCAA champion in DII track.

Forbes contributor & LA Blade Sports Editor Dawn Ennis with Schuyler Bailar
(Photo by Dawn Ennis)

Telfer’s achievement and the success of two Connecticut high school track stars sparked controversy across the country about trans girls and trans women competing with cisgender student-athletes. The Connecticut case wound up in federal court, and despite a judge tossing the suit, it’s now in the appeal phase. 

The swimming success of Thomas, who up until 2019 competed with Penn’s men’s team, has been seized by conservatives as a rallying cry to generate support for bans against trans student-athletes in 11 states and for other laws that discriminate against trans American youth, such as outlawing gender-affirming healthcare, and even Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill. 

What’s missing from all that legislation is actual scientific evidence that would support the cause of groups like Save Women’s Sports. Despite dire warnings, CeCé Telfer didn’t destroy women’s sports in 2019. Laurel Hubbard didn’t destroy women’s sports at the Olympics last summer. And so far, Lia Thomas hasn’t destroyed women’s sports in 2022. 

Journalist Julie Compton interviewed researcher Joanna Harper about the science for NBC News.

“The question isn’t ‘Do trans women have advantages?’ Because yes, that is so obviously true,” said Harper, a medical physicist and the author of “Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes. Harper added that it is normal for athletes to have certain advantages and that any advantages trans women have are not necessarily unfair. “But can trans women and cis women compete against one another in meaningful competition? That’s the important question. That’s the interesting question. And that’s a question that we don’t have a 100 percent firm answer yet.”

“It’s a truism of trans athletes that we can compete in women’s sports as long as we don’t win,” said Harper, who herself is trans. “If we win, then it’s problematic. And, of course, how can you compete if you’re not allowed to win?”

The Other Trans Swimmer

Iszac Henig is the only swimmer for Yale at these championships, and is also the only man. He is a transgender man, who, in order to continue competing in women’s swimming with his Bulldogs teammates, opted to delay one part of his medical transition: He postponed the administration of the gender-affirming hormone testosterone. He did have top surgery, however.

Iszac Henig/Instagram

On Thursday evening, Henig finished 16th in the 50-free race, earning All-American Honorable Mention. He will compete Friday and Saturday in the the 100-butterfly and 100-free. In Saturday’s meet, he will be competing head to head against Thomas, the first time two transgender student-athletes have appeared in the same championship event. 

Despite Henig being a man, Stelzer misidentified him in our interview when I asked if she was also opposed to him competing. 

“If a woman who identifies as being a man wants to swim with the women, I’m all for it ,as long as they’re not taking any testosterone or other performance enhancing substances,” she said. “There might be a little bit of an issue with the mastectomy, because that could possibly streamline, so a little bit of an advantage there, some might say. But I have no issue with a woman swimming in women’s sports. And when it comes down to it, that’s a woman’s body there.” 

Although Henig was not available for comment, a small but vocal group from Yale University traveled to Atlanta for the meet, and cheered him on. They told me they were beyond excited for him, and they explained that like Henig, they are not granting media interviews, but wanted it known how proud they are of him.

Dueling Protests Outside

Far from the pool, the protesters chanting “Even when we’re swimmin’ we’re standing up for women!” were separated from an equally loud group of about 20 pro-transgender inclusion demonstrators, chanting just as loud. 

“Hey hey, ho, ho! Transphobes have got to go!” and “Say it loud, say it clear! Trans athletes are welcome here!” they shouted.

Demonstrators supporting transgender student-athletes across the street from the McAuley Aquatics Center in Atlanta, Ga. on March 17, 2022. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

Some of those in that group were themselves trans and nonbinary. As they spoke to reporters, one of the Save Women’s Sports activists crossed the street to record the counter-protest, getting within inches of some of the demonstrators’ faces with her camera. This was when one of the officials watching the dueling protests and maintaining order stepped between her and the demonstrators, at one point directing her to back off. Her name is Kat, and she’s from New York.

Save Women Sports activist Kat records video of trans rights demonstrators across the street from the McAuley Aquatics Center in Atlanta, Ga. on March 17, 2022. (Photo by Dawn Ennis)

“I used to support transgender rights,” Kat told me, and later she disclosed that she used to identify as nonbinary and has trans friends and family members. “But then I learned about the government changing the laws to erase the difference between sex and gender and endangering biological women.” 

Kat is referring to President Biden’s executive order, signed on the day he was inaugurated. It actually says: 

“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love. Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.”

It also says both Title VII and Title IX related to discrimination should include protections on the basis of gender identity. It doesn’t erase sex. It expands the scope of protections from discrimination. 

Another Save Women Sports activist worked the crowd, handing out trinkets with their logo to those few spectators willing to take them. For the most part, they were later found littering the stands under seats and outside McAuley. 

When the TV camera crews, reporters and photographers from the national news outlets packed up their gear and left, so did the protesters.

*************************

Editor’s Note: The preceding article was a media share between Forbes.com & the Los Angeles Blade.

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Final score in Super Bowl LVIII: Queers 14, MAGA haters two

Here’s our own LGBTQ scoreboard for inclusivity vs. bigots

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(Super Bowl LVIII screenshot)

Even if you didn’t watch a second of the Super Bowl Sunday night, you probably already heard through friends or social media that the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in overtime, 25-22. 

And you undoubtedly learned it was a repeat performance by quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his team, winning the Lombardi trophy two years in a row. And how could you have missed all the coverage of Taylor Swift and her tight end, er, her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce? 

But we kept our own LGBTQ centered scoreboard of the Big Game, awarding points for queer representation and allyship to Team Rainbow, while also making note of points scored by the haters and mad MAGA hatters whom we’ve dubbed Team Troglodyte. To us, that’s the score that really matters, and we are proud to report: WE WON!

Gay man on the field: One point for Team Rainbow

Jonathan Romero cheered with the 49ers Gold Rush team in his first Super Bowl. Romero joined the squad in 2022 and has been welcomed by his cheermates and fans. 

Despite the disappointing loss, Romero went partying after the big game with his squad at Caesars Palace. As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies of the Los Angeles Rams paved the way in 2019 as the first male cheerleaders in Super Bowl history. 

LGBTQ ally Taylor Swift makes out and dances with Travis Kelce after win: Two points for Team Rainbow 

Even if you’re turned-off by straight PDA, the MAGA crowd is even more disgusted by this pop star and her hunk, floating crazy conspiracy theories that their relationship is a plot to re-elect President Joe Biden. Progressives just aren’t that clever enough to engineer that level of musical and political machination. Swift and Kelce danced to her hits at the after-party, songs that have helped closeted fans come out. The Time Person of the Year has embraced LGBTQ rights, has been honored by GLAAD and appeared with drag performers. Maybe she can help the Chiefs acknowledge there are LGBTQ football fans?

Trump takes credit for Taylor Swift’s success because of course he did: One point for Team Troglodyte

Sigh. The truly sad part is how many people will believe this to be true. 

Anti-LGBTQ group funds billion dollar ‘He Gets Us’ Super Bowl ad campaign: One point for Team Troglodyte

A non-profit behind two commercials during the Super Bowl that rebrand Jesus for Gen Z is the main funder of a designated hate group opposing abortion and LGBTQ rights, Open Democracy reports. The report cites Christianity Today as first revealing that David Green, the billionaire co-founder of Hobby Lobby, was among the funders of the ads. They are reportedly produced by a group called The Signatry, a front for the Kansas-based Servant Foundation, which Open Democracy revealed is the main identifiable source of funding for the Alliance Defending Freedom, labeled an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And who else is in Kansas? Oh, right, the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. 

The SNL alumna takes a backseat to a talking cat in this hilarious commercial for Hellman’s Mayonnaise:

“RuPaul Drag Race” star Heidi N Closet joins Judge Judy, comedian Benito Skinner, Jury Duty’s Ronald Gladden, Grammy-winning singer Meghan Trainor and bestselling author and former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho in an ad for e.l.f., reported People.

And there were, reports the Advocate: Mountain Dew, NYX, Paramount+, Starry, Homes.com — featuring “Schitt’s Creek” star Dan Levy across three ads, for three points  — and this year, Volkswagen portrayed a lesbian wedding! 

Gay flag football in Super Bowl spotlightOne point for Team Rainbow

The NFL hosted a group of LGBTQ youth from Las Vegas at a flag football clinic during Super Bowl week at the NFL Experience. A variety of NFL front-office executives, board members of the National Gay Flag Football League, the 49ers cheerleaders and former NFL stars Tony Richardson and Kenny Stills, according to Outsports.

Final score: Team Rainbow 14, Team Troglodyte 2! 

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Your gay guide to Super Bowl LVIII

San Francisco 49ers will play the Kansas City Chiefs

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(NFL/Los Angeles Blade graphic)

The countdown to the big day is down to just hours. And no, we’re not talking about Episode 7 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” that’s not until next Friday! No, the straights are super-hyped about the biggest game in 2024 sports, and believe it or not, there are many sports fans who also just happen to be LGBTQ who are excited to watch Super Bowl LVIII. 

That’s 58 to those of you who didn’t pay attention to Roman Numerals in grade school.

And yes, besides the commercials, the halftime show, the nachos and the adult beverages, there’s plenty of queer content to enjoy. So, whether you’re just watching for the tight pants, wondering which of the cheerleaders is secretly Sapphic, or perhaps unaware that the NFL actually does support the LGBTQ community and has had players come out, grab a beer and read on. 

Who’s Playing and When? 

The San Francisco 49ers are playing the Kansas City Chiefs in Las Vegas on CBS and Paramount+ with the pre-game coverage starting at 6 p.m. EST and kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Reba McEntire (No, not Taylor Swift) is singing the National Anthem.

What About the Halftime Show?

The Apple Music Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show begins at approximately 8 p.m. EST and Usher (No, not Taylor Swift) is performing. 

Meet the 49ers’ Out Gay Male Cheerleader

Jonathan Romero will be cheering with the 49ers Gold Rush team in his first Super Bowl. As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies of the Los Angeles Rams paved the way in 2019 as the first male cheerleaders in Super Bowl history, and Peron has reportedly been by Romero’s side all this week leading up to his debut. Romero joined the squad in 2022.

So Does the NFL Really Welcome Us? 

The answer is a resounding yes, as evidenced this past week at “A Night With Pride.” For the third year in a row, GLAAD teamed up with the league and big-name sponsors for a glittery gala, this time at Caesars Palace, headlined by out singer Lance Bass and performer VINCINT. Special guests included both Romero and Peron, out gay defensive lineman Carl Nassib, who retired recently, former NFL player RK Russell, Jacksonville Jaguars strength coach Kevin Maxen, sportswriter LZ Granderson, actor Angelica Ross, pro wrestler Anthony Bowens, pro snowboarder Brittany Gilman as well as GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis and many more stars.

So how inclusive is the NFL? I mean, really?

The LGBTQ sports site Outsports recently chronicled 62 current or recent NFL players, 13 owners and nine head coaches who support gay and bi athletes and the LGBTQ community, and 101 efforts at inclusion by the NFL, its teams and its players. It was ten years ago this week that Michael Sam came out as gay. Fast-forward to 2021 when Nassib came out as the first out gay active football player in NFL history. Times have changed.

Has anyone gay ever played in a Super Bowl?

The answer is yes, but none came out until after they retired. The most recent was Ryan O’Callaghan, an offensive lineman with the New England Patriots in the 2007 season. O’Callaghan also played with the Kansas City Chiefs and in 2022 predicted more players will come out. As Outsports has reported, two gay men played for the 49ers, although neither played in a Super Bowl. Running back Dave Kopay was a 49er from 1964-67 and offensive tackle Kwame Harris from 2003-2007. Those who preceded O’Callaghan were Jerry Smith (1972), Roy Simmons (1983) and Esera Tuaolo (1998.)

Has anyone LGBTQ+ ever coached in a Super Bowl?

Yes again! Katie Sowers was the first out LGBTQ coach in Super Bowl history. She was with the 49ers back then. 

Do either the Chiefs or the 49ers support LGBTQ fans? 

Check out 49ers Pride! As the Blade has reported, they have led the league in representation and the team has supported them with gender-neutral fan gear. As for the Chiefs, well, we couldn’t find anything on their website that relates to LGBTQ. 

Whomever you root for, have fun, and celebrate safely!

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What’s the queer quotient for the 2024 Summer Olympics?

Paris games to begin on July 26

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IOC Paris 2024 (Los Angeles Blade graphic)

Just 172 days remain until France hosts the Summer Games in the famed City of Light. Questions also remain about whether all the colors of the Pride flag will be inclusively illuminated when the Olympics return to Paris for the first time in a century.

The Los Angeles Blade has compiled this brief guide to the major areas of interest, with the intent to preview what queer fans can expect from this year’s event: 

  • How many out LGBTQ athletes will be representing both their countries and their identities and orientations
  • Restrictions on out transgender athletes and 
  • What the International Olympic Committee is saying — so far — about athletes displaying Pride flags and rainbow colors. 

All of this is very subject to change before July 26, the opening day of the Summer Games. 

Looking Back

At the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, 36 out athletes competed among the 2,871 entered into competition, as the Blade reported. If the LGBTQ athletes were counted as one team, they would have placed 12th in terms of medal count. 

That set a record, although the numbers couldn’t compare to the last Summer Games, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo — which were held in 2021 because of the pandemic. A historic showing in those Summer Games featured 186 out athletes, who would have ranked 11th in the medal tally if grouped together. 

Looking Ahead

Sha’Carri Richardson (NBC Sports YouTube screenshot)

Sha’Carri Richardson, the fastest woman in the world, will represent Team USA at the Summer Games. As the Blade reported last August, Richardson set a world record for the 100m by crossing the finish line in 10.65 seconds. She identifies as bisexual. 

Robbie Manson, the gay rower for New Zealand, announced he qualified for Paris last September. And, to the delight of many, has remained active on OnlyFans as well, reported Out. Manson came out in 2014. 

Emma Twigg will also be competing as a rower in Paris, defending the Olympic gold medal she won in Tokyo in 2021, according to Stuff. Twigg is gay, married to her wife, Charlotte, and together they have a son, Tommy, born in 2022. 

Campbell Harrison of Australia announced on Instagram in November that he qualified to compete in the category of rock climbing for the Summer Games. He came out as gay in 2021. 

Yulimar Rojas holds a world record in triple jump and was an Olympic champion in Tokyo and has already qualified to represent Venezuela in track and field in Paris. Rojas told Infobae she dreams of being “the first to open the gap of 16 [meters,] it’s like another galaxy.”

Kadeisha Buchanan will lead Team Canada in their defense of their Gold Medal for Women’s Soccer in her third appearance at the Games this summer, as Humber News reported. 

Quinn, the first transgender nonbinary Olympic Gold Medalist, competed as a midfielder in Canada’s soccer qualifier last September and is expected back on the pitch in Paris. 

Sadly, it looks as though Australia and Chelsea soccer star Sam Kerr is likely to miss Paris, because of a ruptured ACL. She suffered the knee injury during training three weeks ago in Morocco, reports the official Olympics website. 

Australia and Chelsea soccer star Sam Kerr (Photo courtesy of Kerr’s Instagram page)

There are several other LGBTQ athletes who are likely to qualify. Review the Official 2024 Olympics calendar of qualifiers by clicking here. The Blade will keep you posted as we learn more. 

Transgender Competitors

The International Olympic Committee decided after the last Summer Games to issue a new “Framework for Fairness” in November 2021, which basically punted decisions on inclusion to individual sports organizations. As the Blade reported in June 2022, the International Swimming Federation, once known as FINA and now World Aquatics, decided that trans athletes must have completed their medical transition before the age of 12 to avoid “unfair advantages.”

Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand, was the first out trans athlete to compete at any Olympic Games. She made history in Tokyo, but her performance in the women’s +87kg category wasn’t what got her name into the record books. At 43, Hubbard was the oldest competitor at the 32nd Olympic Games, and after three unsuccessful lift attempts, her participation was reduced to an abduction that did not last more than 10 minutes. Given the new rules, she won’t be back in 2024. 

Following World Aquatics’ lead, Union Cycliste Internationale — the organizers of World Cycling in Switzerland — the Disc Golf Pro Tour, World Athletics, the British Triathlon Federation and the International Rugby League have changed or adopted new “transgender participation policies” that effectively ban trans women from competing with cisgender women. 

World Aquatics has since added a new “open category” in which anyone can compete, aimed at providing a way for trans swimmers to compete. But since only cisgender women can compete in the category that is designated for “women,” advocates for trans athletes consider that discriminatory. NCAA Division I Champion Lia Thomas has challenged World Aquatics at Court for Arbitration for Sport, as the Blade has reported.

Pride House

As has been a tradition at almost every Olympics — the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, being the most memorable exception — Paris will have a Pride House. “A space that will be open to everyone, where it will be possible to celebrate its community and its pride,” according to the official website. 

The Pride House will be set up at Parc de la Villette, “just a short distance from competition venues such as the La Chapelle Arena, Stade de France and even La Concorde,” the site explains. 

Symbols of Pride 

Beyond the Pride House and other “protected” locations in Paris, the International Olympic Committee has told the LGBTQ sports site Outsports that it is committed to ensuring all athletes “have equal opportunities to express themselves” by holding up Pride flags or other rainbow apparel in line with the recently revised wording to its Olympic Charter and updated guidelines for participants.

You can read the changes to the charter, enacted in October 2023, by clicking here. Unchanged is the fundamental principle that “the practice of sport is a human right.”

The IOC said assessments will continue to be made on a “case-by-case” basis, according to the report. 

Paralympics

The 2024 Paralympic Games are set for Aug. 28 through Sept, 8, and LGBTQ+ athletes are again expected to compete. Click here for more information about those games.

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