Riley Gaines to deliver commencement speech at Christian college to 'broaden understanding'

Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines countered the president of the Human Rights Campaign for denying the biological advantages of male athletes in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 21, 2023.
Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines countered the president of the Human Rights Campaign for denying the biological advantages of male athletes in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 21, 2023.

A Michigan college defended its decision to have Riley Gaines, a former NCAA competitive swimmer and an outspoken critic of allowing men to compete in women's sports, serve as the commencement speaker in May. 

Gaines is a former competitive swimmer for the University of Kentucky who was forced to swim against Will Thomas, a man who identifies as a woman named Lia, during the 2022 National College Athletics Association championships. The former athlete has since dedicated her time to advocating for women's sports. 

Gaines is scheduled to deliver the commencement speech at Adrian College, a private school affiliated with the United Methodist Church, on May 5. However, the decision has received pushback online from individuals who see Gaines' views on men in women's sports as controversial. 

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"This is an important issue that should be discussed at colleges and universities throughout the United States," Adrian College President President Jeffrey Docking said in a Monday statement announcing Gaines as the commencement speaker. 

"Adrian College has never shied away from presenting and debating substantive disagreements on campus," Docking continued. "In fact, this is precisely the purpose of universities — to engage in civil discourse of controversial issues. We welcome Riley Gaines to our beautiful campus, and we feel confident our students will be inspired by her commencement address."

Gaines has spoken out about her experience at the 2022 NCAA championships, recalling how the athletic association forced female athletes to compete against Thomas and undress in a locker room with a "6-foot-4-inch fully intact, naked male." Thomas competed on the men's swim team at the University of Pennsylvania for three years before switching over to the women's team.

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.

Andrea Milner, Adrian College's vice president and dean of academic affairs, also issued a statement Monday about Gaines's speaking. She expressed excitement at the idea of helping graduates "broaden their understanding of world issues and inspire[ing] them as they embark on their future endeavors."

In a Tuesday X post written in response to the school's announcement, Shelly Kay, who identified herself as an Adrian College graduate, described Gaines as a "polarizing figure." 

"As an alumni, why would you have such a polarizing individual giving the Commencement speech?" Kay asked. "Riley's views & social media promote hate. "Apparently AC has abandoned the following, 'in United Methodist tradition, is committed to the pursuit of truth and dignity of all people.'"

In December, Gaines testified before the U.S. House Oversight Subcommittee about the Biden administration's proposed Title IX rule changes, where a lawmaker appeared to imply the women's sports advocate is "transphobic." 

During her opening remarks, Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pa., stated that the hearing was a necessary discussion but then claimed that it would also force everyone to listen to "transphobic bigotry" from some of the speakers. Later, Gaines told Lee that if her words made her "transphobic," then the lawmaker was a "misogynist" for what she said in her opening remarks. 

The former NCAA athlete also stated during her testimony that "inclusion" could not be a priority over "safety and fairness," citing studies that have found men maintain a biological advantage over women even after taking feminizing hormones. She also cited various examples of female athletes suffering serious injuries after they were forced to compete with men.

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

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