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The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

The student news site of Pleasant Valley High School

Spartan Shield

Lea Thomas ban sparks controversy in sports

New+laws+passed+by+GOP+politicians+have+forced+transgender+students+to+go+to+the+gender+bathroom+of+their+biological+sex%2C+rather+than+the+gender+they+identify+with.+%0A
Aditya Narayan
New laws passed by GOP politicians have forced transgender students to go to the gender bathroom of their biological sex, rather than the gender they identify with.

In July 2023, Lea Thomas, a transgender athlete, was banned from participating in the Women’s University of Pennsylvania Swimming Team, setting off a string of controversy. 

This was one of many cases across the country in which transgender athletes were prohibited from participating in sports affiliated with their identified gender due to critics claiming they have an unfair advantage. Are these critic’s claims justified, or is the ban a deliberate attempt to undermine trans rights across the nation? 

If transgender athletes had a disproportionate advantage in sports, then it would reflect in strength and endurance tests. One study from the National Library of Medicine tested male and female athletes aged 25 and found that male athletes had significantly greater muscle thickness in the vastus lateralis (thigh muscle), pectoralis major (chest muscle), and trapezius (upper back muscle) compared to their female counterparts. 

The study then went on to say that when performance results were adjusted to reflect the muscle thickness of specific muscles, men generally outperformed women in all assessments. 

Another study conducted by Duke University’s Center for Sports Law and Policy in 2017 found that males exhibited much higher androgen levels, which is the presence of male sex hormones like testosterone, than females. 

In the context of sports this is significant, as testosterone is one of the major hormones that regulates bone and muscle strength. Although females produce testosterone, it is not produced as much as in males. When looking at data from athletes’ performance across various endurance tests, the study even found that some male high school athletes were able to beat women’s olympic world records. 

For both studies, the message is clear: men are at a huge advantage when it comes to physical ability and strength, which can benefit them a lot when playing sports. This could potentially explain how Thomas emerged from the 500th rank on the men’s team to achieving a women’s world record. 

While it would be far-fetched to claim that Thomas cheated by using her advantage as a biological male to win in a female tournament, critics of transgender athletes have long cited the correlation between Thomas’s performance and the strength disparities between men and women as a significant factor in undermining the integrity of women’s sports. 

This is why when Thomas was banned from the women’s swimming team, the move was supported by a multitude of people who claimed that the integrity of women’s sports had been restored. However, some people worry that the new bill is not only unnecessary, but is also hurting the transgender movement, abolishing decades of activism. 

For many transgender people, being forced to compete in their biological sex has led to cases of discrimination and exclusion from their team. Being forced to compete for a team that is assigned to them at birth inherently establishes that their gender identity is not acceptable nor respected within the context of an athletic competition. 

The exclusionary practice could also be deeply hurtful and harmful to transgender individuals. It implies that they are not as deserving to receive the same opportunities or experiences as regular athletes, and only serves to normalize the idea that it is acceptable to treat transgender people as “lesser” or “different” than regular athletes, which could have far reaching consequences beyond the realm of sports.

In fact, many people in the transgender community worry that legislation banning transgender athletes would lead to additional laws which could hurt transgender people in the future. 

Senior Isaiah Ryan, a transgender student, astutely voiced his concern over the laws passed. “There are already restrictions that go beyond sports; they are messing with people’s lives and rights. This happens not just for my community but it could happen to other communities in LGBTQ+ and they could target other demographics outside LGBTQ+. So it is not just us that has to worry, but everyone,” he stated. He expressed his concern after Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds banned gender-reaffirming care to people under the age of 18 earlier this year.

Senior Maddy Fox, who opposes the banning of trans athletes, emphasized that the current system of determining trans’ ability should be changed. “Looking at transgender athletes individually would be better, because you can’t just consider them as ‘Oh, they’re gonna play, or they’re not gonna play’  you have to look at them specifically…. if we’re gonna look at fairness, we need to look at everything, and so those people need to have their post so that they can still play and not be excluded as a whole,” they said. 

Of the solutions commonly discussed to solve the issue of transgender athletes, Ryan is optimistic that having an “open category” can best cater to the interests of both parties. An “open category” is a category that is separate from both male and female races that allows people to participate without any restrictions whatsoever. “It would remove unfairness as well as various other concerns. If people want to compete purely against those of their own gender they can do that. If they want to compete against others they can do that as well. It is all about personal preference,” he suggested.

While it is unclear if these concessions will truly satisfy both parties, a compromise is essential to moving forward. Creating an “open category” allows individuals to compete in an environment that is competitive while also being respectful towards everyone’s background and identity. 

Ultimately, it is important to approach this issue with empathy, understanding, and an openness to inclusivity. By seeking solutions that respect the rights and interests of both sides, we can strive to make sports a much more positive and inclusive experience for everyone. 

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About the Contributor
Aditya Narayan
Aditya Narayan, Copy Editor
Aditya Satya Narayan is a senior at Pleasant Valley High School and serves as a copy editor for the Spartan Shield. After high school, Aditya plans to major in Aerospace Engineering at an undecided university. Besides Honors Journalism, Aditya's favorite classes are AP Physics 2 and Statistics. During his time in high school, Aditya has been one of the most committed members of the Pleasant Valley Spartan Marching Band, which led him to be selected as a co-section leader for the Clarinet section. In concert Band, Aditya was selected to be in the Iowa All-State band for clarinet in his junior year. In his free time, he enjoys watching movies, hanging out with friends, and excessively typing away on 10fastfingers.com to get to his goal of 100 WPM. 

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