The Lia Thomas Story Is the Opposite of Inclusivity | National Review

Has Lia Thomas No Shame? | National Review

Lia Thomas of University of Pennsylvania celebrates with teammates after winning the 400-yard freestyle team relay at the Women’s Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., February 19, 2022. (Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

Yesterday, Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old transgender swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania, won the NCAA championship in the 500-yard freestyle, becoming the first transgender athlete to win any NCAA women’s Division I championship.

On January 19 of this year, the NCAA Board of Governors voted for a “sport-by-sport approach to transgender participation that preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion, and safety” for all competitors. The policy change adopts the International Olympic Committee’s policies on transgender participation in the Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimnation on the Basis of Gender. Lia’s participation in women’s sports is a reflection of the Left’s flawed understanding of “inclusivity.”

The framework aims to create a “level playing field” and to uphold the “credibility of competitive sports.” It seeks to ensure “fairness, particularly in high-level organized sport in the women’s category” and “competitions where no participant has an unfair and disproportionate advantage over the rest.” Yet as soon as the policy was enacted — officially starting with the 2022 winter championships — Lia Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle. 

The NCAA — and the Left’s — understanding of “inclusion” and “fairness” in sports is largely limited to the inclusion and fairness of transgender athletes. For instance, the framework states that anyone, “regardless of their gender identity,” should be able to participate in sports. It mandates “mechanism to prevent harassment and abuse” that especially consider the “particular needs and vulnerabilities of transgender people and people with sex variations.” 

In women’s sports, this brand of progressive inclusivity is quite literally exclusionary. In order to include (very few) transgender females, biological females are effectively excluded from fair competition because of differences in physical advantage. 

But physical advantage is not a factor in fairness, according to the NCAA. Per the framework, you cannot claim that transgender female athletes have an advantage: “Until evidence . . . determines otherwise, athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage due to their sex variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status.” Lia Thomas towers over her peers in physical stature. Her “physical appearance,” however, is not valid evidence of an unfair advantage. 

Progressive expressions of inclusivity often elevate the comfort of a minority over the needs of the majority, but to far less disruptive degrees. For instance, on college campuses, it’s a common requirement in both social settings and on official forms to provide your pronouns. This is an effort to “include” students with different gender identities by normalizing the idea that one’s pronouns are not necessarily correlated to their physical appearance. Stating your pronouns, however, doesn’t impact your ability to fairly participate in any activity; including transgender females in women’s sports is inherently exclusionary. 

The IOC’s framework is purportedly part of the “action taken to foster greater gender equality and inclusion.” In reality, the framework not only fails to promote widespread inclusivity, but hurts gender equality — especially equal access to sports across genders — by discouraging biological females from participating in sports.

Discouragement is not only at the collegiate level; younger female athletes are likely to face an unfair playing field as well. In my state of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), a league spanning 33 sports and 374 public and private high schools, is having its students sign a pledge on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The MIAA handbook states that per Massachusetts law, “students are entitled to be accepted by their schools as the gender with which they identify across all school programs. . . . Athletic opportunities must be afforded to students in accordance with their identified gender.” 

Like the NCAA, the MIAA cautions against arguments about mismatched physical advantage. It does so by discouraging its member schools from using risk of injury as justification against including students of different gender identities. The handbook says, “Student safety has not been a successful defense to excluding students of one gender from participating on teams of the opposite gender. The arguments generally fail due to the lack of correlation between injuries and mixed-gender teams.”

Faced with an unlevel playing field, younger, impressionable female athletes will likely be discouraged from pursuing higher-level women’s sports.

In the case of transgender women in sports, the Left’s understanding of inclusivity caters to an ultra-minority. This is not to say that transgender athletes should be excluded from sports (tighter eligibility requirements are one consideration, but far beyond the scope of this post), but it does draw into question the actual meaning of inclusivity. To women in sports, “inclusivity” has become nothing more than a woke virtue signal that ends up doing more harm than good. 

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.