16 Penn swimmers say transgender teammate Lia Thomas shouldn't be allowed to compete

Sixteen teammates of Penn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas sent a letter to the school and the Ivy League arguing that Thomas has an unfair advantage in the pool and shouldn't be allowed to compete.

The letter obtained by the Washington Post on Thursday asks that the institutions decline to take legal action that could clear a path for Thomas to compete at next month's NCAA championships.

Thursday's letter was sent by 1984 Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar. She's the chief executive of women’s sports advocacy organization Champion Women and a critic of Thomas' presence in the pool as a women's competitor. The 16 Penn swimmers who supported the letter remained anonymous, according to the Post.

“We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman," the letter reads. "Lia has every right to live her life authentically. However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.

"Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female. If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.”

Letter contrasts official team statement

The letter arrives in response to a Tuesday statement from the Penn swimming and diving team expressing "our full support" for Thomas after a Penn swimmer criticized her eligibility in an interview with Fox News. That statement was also unsigned. A Penn spokesperson told ESPN that the statement represented "several" athletes on the team. A parent of a Penn swimmer who also chose to remain anonymous told the Post on Thursday that the team statement represented “two or three” team members.

"We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition," Tuesday's statement read. "We value her as a person, teammate, and friend. The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds."

Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, finishes the 200 yard Freestyle for the University of Pennsylvania at an Ivy League swim meet against Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 22, 2022. - Thomas placed first in the event. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP) (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)
Lia Thomas has broken two school records and posted NCAA-best times in two events since transitioning and competing as a woman. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP)

A Penn swimmer told Fox News in an interview last week that transgender athletes who went through male puberty have "monumental advantages" in athletic competition. The swimmer who also chose to remain anonymous is "hopeful" after the NCAA amended its policy in January to allow individual sports to determine the eligibility of transgender athletes.

The swimmers in support of Thursday's letter asked the Ivy League and Penn not to legally challenge that ruling, which could prevent Thomas from competing at the NCAA championships, depending on what new standards are set.

Thomas' post-transition success has sparked debate

Thomas, a senior, spent three seasons competing for Penn's men's team. She transitioned to a woman and has competed for the women's team this season after undergoing testosterone suppression therapy for more than two years. Since joining the women's team, she's broken two school records and posted the fastest times in the nation in the 200 and 500-yard freestyle events.

Her performance has sparked debate about the fairness of her eligibility for women's competition. Fellow former Olympian Donna de Varona has joined Hogshead-Makar in criticizing her eligibility. Thursday's letter argued that Thomas' presence at the Ivy League championships would take away "competitive opportunities" from other Penn swimmers as schools are only allowed to send a portion of their teams to the competition.

Stanford swimmer and Olympic silver medalist Brooke Forde spoke out in support of Thomas' eligibility in January, stating "I will not have a problem racing against Lia at NCAAs this year.” The Ivy League and Penn have also supported her eligibility. Though it's clear that not everyone at Penn agrees with the school's official stance.