Riley Gaines, female athletes sue NCAA for letting men compete against women

University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines (right) poses next to Lia (formerly Will) Thomas after the two athletes tied for fifth place at an NCAA Women's Swimming Championship, March 17, 2022.
University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines (right) poses next to Lia (formerly Will) Thomas after the two athletes tied for fifth place at an NCAA Women's Swimming Championship, March 17, 2022. | Screenshot: YouTube/Fox News

Women's sports advocate Riley Gaines has joined over a dozen female athletes in filing a lawsuit accusing the National Collegiate Athletics Association of violating Title IX civil rights law by forcing them to compete against and share a locker room with trans-identified males. 

The Independent Council on Women's Sports announced Thursday that it's funding the lawsuit on behalf of 16 former and current female collegiate athletes, including Gaines. The athletes are challenging the NCAA regulations that have allowed males who identify as female, such as NCAA champion swimmer Lia (Will) Thomas, to compete in women's sports. 

"By challenging the NCAA's draconian and discriminatory policies, we're sending a clear message: the integrity of women's sports is non-negotiable," ICONS co-founder Kim Jones stated. "We are committed to defending the hard-won rights of women athletes everywhere. This isn't just a legal battle; it's a moral stand for equality and justice in sports."

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The suit describes Gaines' time as a competitive swimmer for the University of Kentucky and how she was forced to swim against Thomas during the 2022 National College Athletics Association championships. Thomas competed on the men's swim team at the University of Pennsylvania for three seasons before he began identifying as a woman named Lia and started swimming competitively on the women's team. 

According to Gaines, the NCAA forced female athletes to compete against and undress in a locker room with Thomas, whose male genitalia was still intact. Despite tying with the male athlete for fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle, Gaines says an NCAA official told her that Thomas needed to hold the trophy for photo purposes.

"We're not just fighting for ourselves, we're fighting for every young girl who dreams of competing in sports," Gaines said in a statement. "I'm thankful for ICONS' commitment to our cause, especially their financial commitment, allowing us to take this to court. I urge anyone who cares about protecting women's sport to help get behind us."

In addition to the NCAA, the University System of Georgia, Georgia Tech University, University, University of North Georgia and members of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia are also named as defendants in the suit. 

"[T]he NCAA has simultaneously imposed a radical anti-woman agenda on college sports, reinterpreting Title IX to define women as a testosterone level, permitting men to compete on women's teams, and destroying female safe spaces in women's locker rooms by authorizing naked men possessing full male genitalia to disrobe in front of non-consenting college women and creating situations in which unwilling female college athletes unwittingly or reluctantly expose their naked or partially clad bodies to males, subjecting women to a loss of their constitutional right to bodily privacy," the lawsuit stated. 

The complaint accused the NCAA and its member institutions of silencing female athletes and anyone who disagrees with its policies by forcing schools and athletic departments to abide by NCAA's "LGBTQ-Inclusive Codes of Conduct." As the suit noted, the code of conduct outlines the "consequences for engaging in homophobic and transphobic behaviors" and states that offending "language or conduct will not be tolerated."

"The NCAA understands that in some quarters, including on many college campuses, merely standing up for fairness in women's sports will be labeled 'transphobic,'" the suit stated. "Thus, the NCAA's 'Sample Team Code of Conduct' is a speech code, calculated to chill student-athletes from expressing personal opinions about transgender eligibility in the female category that are contrary to those imposed by the NCAA." 

In response to an inquiry from The Christian Post, a NCAA spokesperson described college sports as "the premier stage for women's sports in America."

"[A]nd while the NCAA does not comment on pending litigation, the Association and its members will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition in all NCAA championships," the spokesperson continued. 

The University System of Georgia declined to provide a statement, explaining that it had not been served with the lawsuit yet and does not comment on pending litigation. 

The lawsuit has a list of demands, including for the NCAA to "render invalid and reassign and revise all awards, records, points, prizes, titles, trophies, announcements or other recognition assigned, given, announced, communicated or recognized by the NCAA which were based in any way upon the competitive results or participation of any male who competed in women's events or on a women's team pursuant to the policies, practices, or rules of the NCAA which the Court finds are unlawful."

In addition, the suit requested "damages for pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, suffering and anxiety, expense costs and other damages due to defendants' wrongful conduct."

Under NCAA policy, trans athletes who identify as female must complete testosterone suppression treatment for one calendar year before they can compete in female athletics. 

In 2022, the same year Thomas won an NCAA championship, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to support a sport-by-sport approach to trans-identified athlete participation, mirroring similar policy changes from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and International Olympic Committee.

The lawsuit contends that males who have gone through puberty, even if they undergo hormone suppression, maintain a biological advantage that "no woman could ever achieve without doping."

In every NCAA women's sport, the lawsuit claims the NCAA's testosterone threshold applicable to males who seek to compete against women "is higher than the highest
testosterone level women can produce without doping."

"The NCAA needs to change their policies now," said swimmer Lily Mullens of Roanoke College, whose team was divided last year amid the possibility of a male joining the team.

"I would like to call upon people in positions of leadership to make sure no woman or young girl believes her chance to play doesn't matter. Her chance matters and I feel I must stand up for that. I'm grateful to all the women participating."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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