OPINION: Trans women belong in college sports

A person holds a sign that says "You will NOT erase our kids" and "I love my trans child".
College athletics must allow transgender women to compete on the team that aligns with their gender identity, writes Gwen Tucker SC ’25. (Courtesy: Ted Eytan)

The debate around transgender athletes is not a new conversation, but it has recently focused its attention on college athletics. The discussion of trans athletes in college sports has become particularly focused on Lia Thomas, a transgender woman and swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania. 

As Thomas gathered momentum in women’s swimming competitions, she immediately became the consistent target of vitriolic transphobia from right-wing media sources (and even celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner). In fact, in December and January, Fox News aired 32 segments about her in just six weeks. After she became the first trans athlete to win an NCAA swimming championship for her 500-yard freestyle race, Reka Gyorgy — a fellow collegiate swimmer at Virginia Tech — wrote an open letter blaming Thomas for her own 17th place finish. The NCAA responded to Thomas’ historic win by ‘updating’ its policy on transgender athletes, making it so their ability to compete is determined on a case-by-case basis, where each sport sets requirements for testosterone or estrogen levels required to compete. 

The transphobic response to Thomas’ success represents a larger political attack on transgender people, and trans athletes more specifically. For example, Iowa’s governor recently signed a law that prevents transgender women and girls from participating in women’s sports at public and private K-12 schools, community colleges and any college or university that is affiliated with the NCAA or NAIA conferences. Iowa is not the only one: In 2021 alone, more than 30 states proposed bans on trans individuals participating in sports, and nine actually enacted their legislation. 

Whether these talking points come out of the mouths of Thomas’ fellow swimmers, right-wing media commentators, or powerful politicians, they are spreading rampant misinformation about transgender identities and experiences. One common argument used by opponents of access to gender-affirming sports teams is that transgender women have an inherent “biological advantage” over their cisgender counterparts. 

The fact is, this claim is completely false. Many athletes competing at high levels, regardless of their gender identity, have physiological advantages that make them better suited for their sport. For example, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps – a cisgender man – has been said to have a “perfect swimming body” with a large wingspan and short legs, which gives him genetic advantages over other athletes. This is simply how athletic competition works. The notion of transgender women having a unique advantage has been shown to be scientifically false.

Additionally, the claim that transgender athletes have an unfair advantage completely disregards the countless ways transgender people are subjected to discrimination on a daily basis. Trans individuals are more likely to suffer from bullying, depression and anxiety, and they are more likely to experience poverty and homelessness than their cisgender peers. Disregarding these experiences ignores the real conditions of these individuals’ lives.

The underlying argument for excluding trans women from gender-affirming sports teams, is that their perceived advantage hurts supposed “real women”: their cisgender competitors. Gyorgy relied on this trope in her letter, where she wrote, “every event that transgender athletes competed in was one spot taken away from biological females throughout the meet.” 

In reality, excluding trans women from sports hurts all women. While the impacts obviously fall hardest on transgender individuals, the fact is that all athletes competing in women’s sports could now face “gender policing,” subjected to accusations of being “‘too masculine’ or ‘too good’ at their sport to be a ‘real’ woman.’” Defining womanhood purely based on biological characteristics — hormone levels and sex organs — instead of recognizing the socially constructed nature of gender and gendered stereotypes is inherently in opposition to women’s rights. 

Furthermore, this framing plays into harmful stereotypes that women are weak and must be protected. If these politicians really cared about protecting women, they would support reproductive rights, the Violence Against Women Act, and other policies that actually keep people safe from gender-based discrimination and violence. Instead, they scapegoat transgender people, spreading blatant and vitrolic transphobia whenever possible. 

There is, unfortunately, no simple solution to this widespread problem. In addressing discrimination that transgender individuals face nationwide, one small place to start is in college sports. The NCAA must change its inherently reactive policy, proactively accepting and encouraging the participation of transgender people in the sports team that is affirming to them. 

The Claremont Colleges specifically can further this work by explicitly stating their commitment to accepting, welcoming and supporting transgender athletes on any of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps or Pomona-Pitzer teams. We as students can also take individual actions by finding ways to support our transgender peers in meaningful and important ways. Showing that trans people belong in sports is the least we can do to ensure that trans people belong everywhere.

Gwen Tucker SC ’25 is from Evanston, Illinois. She is passionate about community organizing, Jewish identity, and showing everyone pictures of her foster dogs.

Facebook Comments