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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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Gay men challenge Qatar death penalty for homosexuality

Country to host 2022 World Cup

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Dr. Nasser Mohamed (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

Gay men are blowing the whistle now, two months before the World Cup, demanding the host nation of Qatar change its anti-LGBTQ ways.

The Middle Eastern country where Islam is the state religion will welcome soccer players, coaches and fans from all around the planet, beginning Nov. 20, for matches that will pit nation against nation.

Qatar has promised to welcome LGBTQ foreigners, even as its own people are tortured and put to death for being who they are. 

On Monday, Qatar’s ambassador to Germany got an earful from one of those men at a human rights conference in Frankfurt, hosted by the German Football Association, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Fan representative Dario Minden spoke in English directly to Abdulla bin Mohammed bin Saud Al Thani, about who he is and who he loves, Minden told him to “abolish the death penalty” for homosexuality. 

“I’m a man and I love men. I do — please don’t be shocked — have sex with other men. This is normal,” Minden told Al Thani. “So, please get used to it, or stay out of football. Because the most important rule in football is, football is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re lesbian, if you’re gay. It’s for everyone. For the boys. For the girls. And for everyone in between. 

“So, abolish the death penalty. Abolish all of the penalties regarding sexual and gender identity,” he said. 

Although organizers promised Al Thani an opportunity to respond, the Associated Press reports that portion of the conference was closed to the public and the news media and was not televised. 

Earlier, Al Thani reportedly complained to those assembled that the issue of human rights was a distraction from the World Cup, even though the event was titled, “Sport and Human Rights.” 

“We all care about human rights,” said Al Thani. “But I would have enjoyed (it) more if I saw some concentration not only on just one subject, but the enjoyment of football and the football effect on people around the world.” 

More than 5,000 miles away in San Francisco, a gay Qatari physician has organized a petition to tell the land of his birth: Love Is Not A Crime. 

Doctor Nasser Mohamed decided to come out in 2010 following a visit to the U.S., and spent his residency in Connecticut before moving to California in 2015. 

Mohamed wrote in an op-ed published by Outsports last month that he has spent the last decade caring for the LGBTQ community in outpatient settings and growing as an activist. 

“Being an LGBT person is a criminal offense in the legal system in Qatarm as is sex between two men. There are state-sponsored conversion-therapy practices, and LGBT-affirming psychotherapy is not offered.” He wrote how law enforcement uses media and chat rooms to find, jail and punish people for being LGBTQ. 

“Visibility of the local LGBT community in Qatar, and the exposure of their treatment, are absolutely essential,” Mohamed wrote. “I am doing my part by speaking up.”

Editor’s note: Find out about Mohamed’s petition by clicking here. He is also raising money through a GoFundMe account to provide him with funding for his activism as well as security and protection.

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Carl Nassib returns to Tampa

Former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end came out as gay in June 2021

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Carl Nassib (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/KUVV Fox 5 in Las Vegas)

Carl Nassib, who made headlines in June 2021 when he became the NFL’s first out gay active player, reportedly has signed a one-year contract with his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The 29-year-old defensive end was released by the Las Vegas Raiders in March, and became a free agent. NFL sources said that was due to his contracted salary amount — $7.75 million — and not any reflection on his sexual orientation.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news with a tweet

When Nassib came out last summer, he announced he was donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project, and for Pride Month this year he made a new pledge to help LGBTQ youth. He promised to match donations to the Trevor Project, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

Will Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady welcome Nassib?

As Outsports reported, he’s never made any comments about playing with someone gay. Brady’s former New England Patriots teammate Ryan O’Callaghan recalled that before he came out in 2017, following his retirement, there was one time that he missed the team bus and Brady gave him a ride in his car to that day’s practice.

O’Callaghan told Outsports he believes Brady would have “absolutely” accepted him if he had come out at that time.

“Being married to a super model I’m sure he’s met a few gay people in his life,” said O’Callaghan.

Brady wed Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bündchen in 2009.

Legendary Boston sports columnist Steve Buckley of the Athletic came out as gay in 2011 while at the Boston Herald. He told Outsports that Brady has always been friendly and cooperative, even after Buckley came out.

This is the second time around at Raymond James Stadium for Nassib. He played for the Buccaneers for two seasons prior to joining the Raiders in 2020. His NFL career began in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. 

As Jason Owens reported for Yahoo! Sports, Nassib was far more productive in Tampa as a part-time starter, recording 6.5 sacks in 2018 and six sacks in 2019. The NFL’s website shows he played just 242 defensive snaps and earned 1.5 sacks last season. 

In 86 games including 37 starts, Nassib’s recorded 22 career sacks, 164 tackles, 53 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

In addition to Brady, Nassib’s new teammates are Akiem Hicks and William Gholston at defensive end and outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Given that the Buccaneers finished seventh in the NFL in sacks last season with 47, Nassib will be expected to improve Tampa Bay’s chances when their season begins on Sept. 11 in Dallas.

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Federal judge temporarily blocks anti-trans youth sports law in Indiana

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team

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On Tuesday Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an preliminary injunction that blocked an Indiana law that prevents trans youth from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team while litigation continues.  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit in April, on behalf of A.M., challenging House Enrolled Act 1041, which bans transgender girls from participating in school sports. 

Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, issued the following statement: 

“When misinformation about biology and gender is used to bar transgender girls from school sports it amounts to the same form of sex discrimination that has long been prohibited under Title IX, a law that protects all students – including trans people – on the basis of sex.  

“We are pleased that Judge Magnus-Stinson has recognized this and required that A.M. be allowed to play on her school’s softball team.  

“If other students are being denied the right to join a sports team at their school due to their transgender status, we encourage them to contact the ACLU of Indiana immediately.” 

This past May, the Indiana Legislature had voted to overturn Republican Governor Eric Holcomb’s March veto of HB 1041, a measure that bans transgender girls from competing on girls’ K-12 sports teams in the state.

The vote to override the veto means that this law makes Indiana the 8th state to ban trans youth from playing sports in 2022 by legislative action — and the 16th in the country.

In his veto message sent to House Speaker Todd Huston’s office, Holcomb said the bill presumed a problem already existed that required the state to intervene and it implied the goals of consistency and fairness in girls’ sports were not being met.

“After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal,” Holcomb wrote.

“Governor Holcomb was the second governor this year to uphold the dignity of transgender and nonbinary youth, and veto an attempt by lawmakers to write them out of existence. While those young people continue to face unrelenting political attacks, the Indiana legislature voted to override his act of courage and compassion, pushing these marginalized youth even further to the sidelines,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project.

“This bill claimed to solve a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports in Indiana that didn’t exist, but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth — young people who already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide — are very real. To the young people in Indiana watching tonight: you are stronger than they know. We are here for you, we will fight for you, and we are not going anywhere.”

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