Trans athletes competing with women ‘not progressive’

Riley Gaines refuses to be silenced. “This is not progressive,” she told The Post about biologically male transgender athletes competing in women’s sports. “We are not moving forward. This is actually quite the opposite. We’re going back 50 years in time to before Title IX.”

The former University of Kentucky swimmer stepped into the spotlight in March of last year when she first spoke out against biological male athletes competing in women’s sports.

“We have to let people know as a group that a majority of us female athletes — or females in general — are not okay with this,” she said on the “Unmuted” podcast after tying for fifth place with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in the women’s 200-meter NCAA championship.

“If we as female athletes aren’t willing to stick up for ourselves, we shouldn’t expect someone else to stand up for us,” Gaines told The Post. “Someone has to speak out truthfully. So I did.”

A daughter of two athletes, the Nashville native started swimming at the age of 4. In 2018, Gaines was recruited by the University of Kentucky where, in addition to studying human health services and health law, she spent six hours a day in the water practicing.

Riley Gaines
“Someone has to speak out truthfully. So I did,” Gaines said of her advocacy.

“You really have to dedicate your entire four years of college to excelling,” she said of swimming. “It’s a major time commitment, and it’s definitely a lifelong journey.”

All the hard work paid off when Gaines became a 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer and a five-time SEC champion. But last year, the integrity of her sport — and female sports as a whole — was called into question when University of Pennsylvania swimmer Thomas, who had competed on the school’s men’s team her freshman, sophomore and junior years, began shattering records in the women’s category.

Gaines said the experience of competing against Thomas in the NCAA championship last March “felt like I was going into the race with my hands tied behind my back.”

Lia Thomas
Thomas was undergoing hormone replacement therapy when she competed at the University of Pennsylvania but had competed on the men’s team for her first three years at the school.

Although Thomas has undergone hormone replacement therapy, many are still concerned about physical athletic advantages transgender competitors could have over cisgender female competitors.

“Whether they have different lung capacities, their height, testosterone levels whether they’ve used testosterone blockers or not — it doesn’t suppress going through puberty as a male. Especially Lia, who swam for three years as a male,” Gaines told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in April of 2022.

Her decision to speak out came after NCAA officials decided that, since there was only one fifth-place trophy, Gaines would get hers later.

Lia Thomas and Riley Gaines
Thomas and Gaines tied for fifth place in the 2022 NCAA 200-meter race.

“Up until that point, I’d been waiting for someone else to say something, but that interaction was the final straw,” Gaines recalled. “Lia Thomas has shown extreme selfishness and a major lack of awareness — and just an utter disregard for women.”

Gaines said Thomas’s participation in women’s collegiate swimming is a symptom of a larger societal shift she finds problematic.

“We’re watching the denial of the most basic of truths. When you can’t acknowledge what a woman is, there’s a huge problem,” she added. “This is deeper than just sports. This is a systematic erasure of what a woman is.”

Riley Gaines
You could just feel the discomfort in the room,” Gaines said of sharing a locker room with Thomas.
Elliott Hess

Gaines found herself back in the headlines for advocating against NCAA rules that compel female athletes to share a locker room with biological males with intact anatomy, as she had to with Thomas. (Thomas was then transitioning with hormone replacement therapy.)

Although she’s accustomed to changing in front of fellow athletes, Gaines said that sharing a locker room with Thomas was an entirely different experience.

“There’s a 6-foot-4 biological man dropping his pants and watching us undress, and we were exposed to male genitalia,” she recalled on Fox News’ “America Reports.” “Not even probably a year, two years ago, this would have been considered some form of sexual assault, voyeurism.”

Riley Gaines
Gaines said she has received plenty of support from other athletes in private, but people are afraid to publicly speak out.

“You could just feel the discomfort in the room,” Gaines told The Post. “We were not warned. And the NCAA is not protecting us.”

Gaines also feels like she’s been hung out to dry by other athletes who privately agree with her but won’t speak out publicly. She says just about everyone she’s talked to — from fellow athletes to coaches — feels the same but fear being canceled.

“They [have been] told they will never get into grad school, they will lose all their friends, they will never get a job if they speak out,” Gaines said. “And so I empathize with them because that is scary.”

But her patience is wearing thin. Gaines said Olympians and “some of the most well-known athletes on the planet” have extended private support that’s only left her frustrated: “At first, I was honored when I got these messages. But now I realize that if you are silent publicly, then you are complicit.”

Riley Gaines
Gaines said that people who agree with her but won’t speak out are “complicit.”
Justin Kase/Shutterstock

Gaines graduated last year and is getting ready to start dental school. Now, she’s calling on other athletes to stand up for women’s sports.

”It was never my intention to personally advance myself,” she said. “I’m reaching a point where I feel like the torch has been lit, and it would be phenomenal if I could hold it together with someone. But there are still so few athletes who have used their voice for protecting women’s sports.”

In May, Thomas teased the possibility of competing at the Olympic level, telling ABC News, “It’s been a goal of mine to swim at Olympic trials for a very long time, and I would love to see that through.”

Meanwhile, the recent graduate is committed to advocating for the future of women’s sports. “I’m unfaltering in my morals and my values,” she said. “And I can only hope one day that I get to bring a daughter into this world. I can’t imagine not fighting for her.”