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Penn, Ivy League back transgender swimmer amid backlash over successful season

Lia Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania swimmer who is transgender, is breaking college records. But some say she shouldn't be allowed to compete.
/ Source: TODAY

Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, has generated controversy after her performance has left some critics questioning her eligibility to compete.

Thomas has the support of her school, which said Thursday that she “has met or exceeded all NCAA protocols over the past two years for a transgender female student-athlete to compete for a women’s team. She will continue to represent the Penn women's swimming team in competition this season.”

The Ivy League also backed Thomas.

“Over the past several years, Lia and the University of Pennsylvania have worked with the NCAA to follow all of the appropriate protocols in order to comply with the NCAA policy on transgender athlete participation and compete on the Penn women’s swimming and diving team,” it said in a statement Thursday.

“The Ivy League reaffirms its unwavering commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all student-athletes while condemning transphobia and discrimination in any form,” it added.

The NCAA did not reply NBC News’ request for comment. 

Thomas, 22, began to transition in 2018 and came out to her team a year later.

“I’m just thrilled to be able to continue to swim and I love to compete,” she said last month on the Swimswam podcast.

Thomas underwent more than two years of hormone replacement therapy and followed NCAA guidelines in order to earn a spot on the women’s team.

Last month, she notched the fastest times in college swimming in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events, while dominating the 1,650 freestyle when she won the event, 38 seconds faster than the runner-up.

Officials at Penn say they’re aware students and parents have criticized about Thomas, with some people reportedly contacting the NCAA to demand rules about transgender athletes be modified.

“While the NCAA’s rules demand the use of testosterone suppressants for a specific duration, the current requirements are not rigid enough and do not produce an authentic competitive atmosphere,” John Lohn, editor-in-chief of Swimming World magazine, wrote in an op-ed.

“It is obvious that one year is not a sufficient time frame to offer up a level playing field. Athletes transitioning from male to female possess the inherent advantage of years of testosterone production and muscle-building.”

Thomas and her team are scheduled to compete this weekend in a tri-meet against Yale University and Dartmouth College.