More than a dozen female athletes are suing NCAA over trans inclusion in sports

Over a dozen female athletes are taking legal action against the National Collegiate Athletics Association regarding transgender athlete participation and access to female facilities in collegiate sports.

The focus of this class-action lawsuit revolves around Lia Thomas. She is a transgender athlete whose exceptional performance in the 2022 NCAA Swimming Championships sparked controversy. While enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas garnered attention for her achievements in the swimming arena.

The lawsuit alleges that both the NCAA and the host of the event Georgia Tech knowingly violated Title IX regulations. Title IX ensures equal opportunities for men and women in educational programs and athletics at federally funded institutions.

This landmark lawsuit seeks to overhaul existing regulations, making biological males ineligible to compete against female athletes. It requires the NCAA to “reassign” any trophies granted to transgender athletes competing in women’s events to their female competitors. Additionally, the lawsuit seeks “damages for pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, suffering and anxiety, expense costs and other damages due to defendants’ wrongful conduct.”

At the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in 2022, Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle title. From 2017 to 2020, Thomas participated in men’s swim team for the University of Pennsylvania. Howeer, he was never able to qualify for the NCAA finals. Following a two-year period of hormone treatment, Thomas transitioned to the women’s team. He outperformed female opponents in both sprint and endurance events.

Lia Thomas’s transition from the men’s to the women’s swim team stirred further controversy, particularly regarding locker room usage. The lawsuit accuses the NCAA of violating the Fourteenth Amendment by compromising female athletes’ privacy in locker rooms. It describes that  instances of “naked men possessing full male genitalia to disrobe in front of non-consenting college women” creates situations in which female athletes feel uncomfortable.

Two more plaintiffs, Riley Gaines and Kaitlynn Wheeler claimed that they first learned that Thomas had access to the women’s locker room when he passed them as they were getting dressed in their racing suits. According to the complaint, the suits are so tight that they “require 15–20 minutes to put on.”

Wheeler said: “While you’re doing this, you’re exposed. You can’t stand there and hold a towel around you while putting the suit on at the same time.”

“Never in my 18-year career had I seen a man changing in the locker rooms. I immediately felt the need to cover myself. I could feel the discomfort of the other girls in there.”

Another athlete identified in the lawsuit as plaintiff ‘Swimmer A’ resorted to changing into her suit in a restroom stall. This was because “was shocked to see a naked Thomas 10 feet in front of her and a full frontal view of Thomas’s genitalia” when she first entered the locker room.

The lawsuit challenges the notion that testosterone suppression and personal choice alone suffice to allow male participation in women’s sports. Plaintiffs argue that biological advantages retained by individuals who have undergone male puberty cannot be negated solely through hormone therapy.

Thomas is now appealing to an international sports governing organization in an attempt to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024. Thomas claims that the World Aquatics regulations which exclude her from competing “are invalid and unlawful as they discriminate against her.” They were enacted in June 2022 after the 2022 NCAA Championships.

While some athletes express empathy towards Thomas’s journey, many voice frustration over the fairness of transgender participation in women’s sports.