16 College Athletes Are Suing the NCAA For Allowing Lia Thomas to Swim

More than a dozen current and former college athletes filed a class-action lawsuit against the National College Athletics Association (NCAA) this week, claiming the organization violated their Title IX rights by allowing transgender athletes to register for women’s competitions.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Atlanta, represents 16 plaintiffs who competed in various college sports, including Riley Gaines, the former University of Kentucky swimmer who turned her antipathy for trans swimmer Lia Thomas into a burgeoning career in conservative politics. In their filing, the plaintiffs allege that by allowing trans athletes to compete in leagues that match their gender identity, NCAA officials did not provide “equal treatment for women” and violated federal Title IX anti-discrimination law.

The plaintiffs claim that the NCAA’s policies on trans inclusion constitute a “radical anti-woman agenda,” and attempt to draw a line between those policies and the organization’s “monetization of college sport,” which they say is part of a wider “so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda.” They are seeking punitive damages and relief for emotional distress, and a ban on trans women in women’s locker rooms, as well as the removal of Thomas and other trans athletes from the official NCAA women’s record books. Filed in Georgia, the lawsuit also names multiple state universities and members of the state Board of Regents, alleging that they are also culpable for allowing Thomas to change in women’s locker rooms during competitions.

“College sports are the premier stage for women’s sports in America, and 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,” a representative for the NCAA told the Associated Press on Thursday.

In 2021, the Department of Education issued updated guidance asserting that the term “sex” in Title IX’s anti-discrimination protections also applies equally to trans people. That same year, Thomas’ breakout success led to a wave of anti-trans backlash across college sports, leading the NCAA to adopt new policies on trans participation in January 2022. Those rules allow other athletic organizations to set restrictions on hormone levels among other medical requirements for trans athletes on a sport-by-sport basis, deferring to international guidelines in the event no such policy exists for a given sport. Thomas herself filed a lawsuit against World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming, in 2023, alleging the organization’s new medical policies and controversial “open category” for trans swimmers are themselves discriminatory.

Gaines, now a frequent fixture in far-right circles, has waged her “Our Bodies Our Sports” campaign against the NCAA for several years. Her most recent protest outside an NCAA conference in January attracted “a few dozen” sympathizers, according to the Arizona Republic. Meanwhile, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who formerly decried trans athletes in women’s sports as well, said in December that she is “now firmly on the side of inclusion.”

“I have come to understand that the science is far more complex than I thought,” Nyad said, referencing studies that examine the athletic advantage debate. “[T]here are clearly more educated experts than I who are creating policy to ensure that elite sports are both fair and inclusive of all women.”

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