Fearless Athletes Celebrate a Rematch for Girls’ Sports in Federal Court
“I thought surely there would be someone, whether that be a coach, or another swimmer, or someone within the NCAA — I thought surely someone would stick up for us.” For the University of Kentucky’s Riley Gaines, that was the moment she realized: they were on their own. The teams forced to swim against Lia Thomas, a biological man, had no other choice but to speak up themselves or lose everything they’d worked for. “It kind of hit me. If we, as women, were not willing to stick up for ourselves, how can we expect someone else to?”
In a sobering conversation with the Washington Examiner’s Amy DeLaura, Gaines talked about the soul-crushing moments in the pool when girls she knew and admired watched their dreams slip out of reach — all because the adults in their sport refused to confront the transgender controversy head on. She remembers the first time she saw Thomas race the 500-yard freestyle in 2022 and the shock of seeing a man “destroy everyone.”
“I was standing right next to the girl who placed 17th, which means she didn’t make it to the final or get to be an All-American when Lia touched the wall,” Riley has said. “She just looked at me [with] tears in her eyes and she told me, ‘I just got beat by someone who probably didn’t have to try this morning.’”
Gaines, a 12-time NCAA All-American swimmer in her own right, raced Thomas herself and tied for fifth. It was demoralizing. And yet, with every race, every new record, photos of the out-of-place male swimmer were plastered everywhere. “In that moment, I felt like we, as women, were being mocked,” she said. “We were being reduced to a photo op to validate the feelings and identity of a man.” And yet, DeLaura points out, no one seemed to care about how the female swimmers felt about having a man “joining their competition, locker rooms, and award podiums.”
Worst of all, the coaches looked the other way — even when their girls were put in traumatizing situations. “You have someone with male genitalia pulling his pants down, watching you as you undress. It throws you off,” Riley said, remembering how Lia would walk around the locker room naked. The women, knowing the officials didn’t have their back, were too afraid to complain.
“This is not just sports. This is happening with the education system, prisons, locker rooms, and changing spaces for women,” Gaines insisted. “How did our elected leaders let this happen? Regardless of where they fall in the political spectrum, what mother, what father wants their little daughter, their little son to be in a school where they’re being confused at the age of six years old, in kindergarten, about their identity? They’re being taught their sexuality. They don’t even know their ABCs,” she lamented. “I feel like we’re living in a godless society.”
Connecticut’s Selina Soule knows exactly how that feels. The high school track star was one of the first girls run over by the transgender train that’s barreled down America’s tracks. In 2017, she was knocked off a podium — and out of the running for crucial scholarships — by two boys competing against girls’ teams. Selina would have qualified for the New England regionals, allowing her to run in front of more college coaches, if the two competitors who identify as transgender hadn’t taken the top spots. She complained to the Department of Education, explaining that she wanted these individuals to live out their truth, but not at the expense of biological girls. Then, Selina did what no one had: she took her state to court.
Two months ago, the case against Connecticut’s transgender sports’ policy finally worked its way to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where it was unanimously dismissed. Despite two male runners stealing more than 17 records and 15 championships in her state, the judges refused to acknowledge any harm to the young women, their scholarship opportunities, or future track careers.
In a slap to the face to women everywhere, Judge Denny Chin wrote that the four plaintiffs “regularly competed at state track championships as high school athletes,” sought state titles in various events, and “were indeed ‘champions.’” He insisted that they did sometimes finish first, so they had nothing to complain about. Besides, he and others agreed, the entire case should be moot since all four girls in the lawsuit had already graduated from high school. “It would be impossible, at this point, for an injunction correcting the records to grant Plaintiffs improved college recruitment opportunities.”
But what does that say to the generation of girls competing now? The ones desperate to level the playing field after these last several years of political correctness has robbed them of the legacy women fought and won with Title IX?
When the ACLU called the court’s ruling a “victory for fairness, equality, and inclusion,” Selina says it was “heartbreaking,” because “it’s not fair for girls to be forced to compete against biological males. There is nothing that we can do to overcome the biological differences that males have over women. … [I]t made me feel like what I went through in high school did not matter.”
But an announcement Monday has the potential to right the wrongs Soule, Gains, and so many girls experienced. In a surprise twist, the Second Circuit Court has agreed to reconsider the case — this time with the full bench weighing in. Alliance Defending Freedom, who’s represented Selina and teammates Chelsea Mitchell, Alanna Smith, and Ashley Nicoletti celebrated the news, pointing to the swell of support for women’s sports across the states.
“Selina, Chelsea, Alanna, and Ashley — like all female athletes — deserve access to fair competition,” ADF Senior Counsel Christiana Kiefer insisted. “We’re pleased the 2nd Circuit has decided to rehear this important case, and we urge the court to protect women’s athletic opportunities. Eighteen states have enacted laws that protect women and girls from having to compete against males, and polls show that a majority of Americans agree that the competition is no longer fair when males are permitted to compete in women’s sports.”
This is the kind of impact a handful of brave girls can have on the world. It’s why, when teammates or others are afraid to say anything, Selina tells them, “They need to stand up and speak out, because it’s going to be much easier to fight this issue with the more voices we have. … I never thought in a million years that this topic would be something that would come up and I would have to fight against. But I have absolutely no regrets. And I know that what I’m standing for is right — and I will continue to do so for as long as it takes.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.