An Olympic silver medalist who lost to Lia Thomas at NCAA Championships said she's 'proud to support trans athletes'
Penn swimmer Lia Thomas won a national title, making history for trans athletes in college sports.
Erica Sullivan, an Olympic silver medalist who placed third in the NCAA event, voiced support for Thomas.
"All athletes — including transgender athletes — deserve to be respected and included," Sullivan wrote.
University of Pennsylvania swimmer and newly anointed national champion Lia Thomas has found herself at the center of America's debate over transgender athletes' participation in women's sports.
On Thursday, the 22-year-old senior bested two Olympic silver medalists to win the 500-yard freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships. Many naysayers have called the result unfair to the rest of the field due to Thomas' perceived biological advantage in being assigned male at birth.
But one notable voice in the chorus of individuals supporting Thomas and other trans athletes belongs to Texas Longhorns freshman Erica Sullivan, who touched the wall after the controversial swimmer in Thursday night's final.
One day after finishing third behind Thomas and Virginia Cavaliers star Emma Weyant, Sullivan penned an op-ed for Newsweek, in which she explained "why I'm proud to support trans athletes like Lia Thomas."
"All athletes — including transgender athletes — deserve to be respected and included, exactly as we are," Sullivan wrote. "Throughout my life, swimming has enabled me to learn so much both in and out of the pool, and transgender athletes should not be excluded from this opportunity."
Sullivan — who stood on the 1,500-meter freestyle podium alongside swimming icon Katie Ledecky at the Tokyo Olympics — noted that, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, "I feel incredibly grateful that coming out as gay never kept me from being able to participate in the sport I love."
She doesn't want to see anyone denied the many benefits of sports participation based on who they are or how they identify.
"Lia Thomas has been unfairly targeted for just that — for being who she is, a transgender woman," Sullivan wrote. "Like anyone else in this sport, Lia has trained diligently to get to where she is and has followed all of the rules and guidelines put before her. Like anyone else in this sport, Lia doesn't win every time."
"And when she does, she deserves, like anyone else in this sport, to be celebrated for her hard-won success, not labeled a cheater simply because of her identity," she added.
Sullivan then noted that, with many pressing crises emerging across the globe, time should be spent finding solutions to serious problems, rather than debating her "fellow swimmer's fundamental rights." Simply put, "transgender athletes should not be denied equal rights when compared to cisgender athletes."
As far as she's concerned, that's the end of the debate, and claims that Thomas and other trans women pose a threat to women's sports are unfounded.
"As a woman in sports, I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women's sports are: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources, and a lack of women in leadership," Sullivan wrote. "Transgender girls and women are nowhere on this list."
"Women's sports are stronger when all women — including trans women — are protected from discrimination, and free to be their true selves," she added.
Thomas has two additional events remaining on her schedule at NCAA Championships. She'll compete in Friday's 200-meter freestyle event — where she is the favorite — as well as Saturday's 100-meter freestyle race. She won Ivy League championships in both events, as well as the 500-meter freestyle.
Sullivan, meanwhile, has just one event left in her season. She'll swim the 1,650-yard freestyle on Saturday — a race that's comparable in length to her Olympic medal event.
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