…But is it fair?

Quinn Brown, Writer

Sports are not, and have never been fair. Transgender people are not making sports unfair.

As it is currently election season, political ads have been flying left and right. Just like every year prior to 2022, the season prompts attack ads, including one from the Republican Governors Association on May 14, 2022. The ad mentioned how current Kansas Governor Laura Kelly “opposed common-sense efforts to ban men from competing against girls in high school sports.” 

Attack ads like this use specific word choices to manipulate an audience, like the words “men” vs. “girls, ” indicating a predatory sense. When we see these ads, we need to remember: transgender people are not predators. 

In March of 2022, Director of the KU Sport & Exercise Psychology Lab Mary Fry was asked to provide an expert opinion on a West Virginia court case. The case was held to declare the possibility of allowing a transgender female to participate in a women’s team sport. This person was in middle school.

“The states are making these laws that [say] you can’t transition and be female, [but] we don’t care about [transitioning males], which makes no sense to me.” Fry said. “It just fosters a stereotype that [trans women are] going to excel and have an unfair advantage.”

 Only three weeks ago, on Oct. 3, Kentucky State swimmer Riley Gains appeared in a political ad supporting Rand Paul. Gains disparaged transgender women in sports, specifically a transgender female swimmer named Lia Thomas. In the ad, Gains says, “for girls across America, [their] dream is being taken away by men competing in women’s sports.” Later on in the ad, Paul closes with the statement, “I’ll always fight for fairness.” This further perpetuates the harmful stereotype that all transgender women who are successful in sports do nothing but take away from cisgender women. 

The fact that grown adults need to resort to dehumanizing transgender students, by implying they’re predators or calling transgender women “men,” to make a point is not only extremely unfair, but it is also a slap in the face for every transgender person in the world. As more political ads are being spewed with hurtful lies, we are taking more steps backward. We should not allow this political pressure and antagonizing language to cloud the reality of transgender issues.

 In March of 2022,  Thomas won the NCAA women’s 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4:33.24. And even though she won – she didn’t break the record set in 2017 by cisgender woman Katie Ledecky, with a time of 4:26.06. 

When she competed, Thomas had been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for close to three years. The NCAA requires that Thomas, like any other transgender athlete, must be on HRT for at least a year to compete. 

Because Thomas surpressed her hormones, she had the same “advantage” as the women she competed against regardless of her sex, according to data from The Independent. In fact, Thomas performed worse after taking HRT. Rachel Lang for LADbible wrote, “Before transitioning, her best time in the 500-yard event was 5.6 percent slower.” The commonly-used phrase that Lia was “a 400th rank swimmer and now is #1,” is deceptive.  

All transgender people should be given the opportunity to compete in sports without discrimination, especially when abiding by the rules. We need to have a balance between fairness and inclusion. Thomas should be allowed to swim as a woman, against women, because she is a woman.

Every person comes with different athletic advantages and abilities, trans or not. Transgender women just like cisgender women, come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Not every transgender woman who swims is a Lia Thomas, and not every cisgender man that swims is a Michael Phelps. Every athlete brings their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Unequal ability should not get in the way of equal inclusion.


Digital illustration depicting a group of competitive swimmers wearing the colors of the transgender flag. (Sabrina San Agustin)