How an Ivy League swimmer became the face of the debate on transgender women in sports

Boston (CNN)Lia Thomas stood tall and smiled wide atop the championship podium, her nearly 6-foot-4 frame pushing her head past the top of the Ivy League’s green photo backdrop.

With one hand she held a placard reading “Ivy 2022 Champion,” and with the other she stuck up two fingers in that classic sign of victory. Her hair nestled alongside the medal around her neck as a blue University of Pennsylvania jacket hung from her broad swimmer’s shoulders.
Inside Harvard University’s Blodgett Pool, not far from a large banner reading “8 Against Hate,” referring to the Ivy’s eight schools, her victories in the 500-yard freestyle on Thursday, the 200-yard freestyle on Friday and the 100-yard freestyle on Saturday showed a star athlete going about her business. The crowd of family and friends cheered politely, and Thomas posed for photos with Penn teammates and shook the hands of her closest competitors.
Lia Thomas smiles on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle on Thursday.

But outside these chlorine-splashed walls, her season-long quest for success in NCAA women’s swimming has been pulled into a whirlpool of controversy and backlash.
With each victory, Thomas, a transgender woman who previously swam for Penn’s men’s team, has brought renewed attention to the ongoing debate on trans women’s participation in sports and the balance between inclusion and fair play.
Her face has been prominently featured on Fox News and right-wing news sites critical of society’s changing views on sex and gender. In the past couple of years, Republican-led states across the country have passed laws to keep trans women and girls from participating in girls’ and women’s sports in the name of “fairness,” and Thomas quickly became the personification of those fears. Last week, a Republican Senate candidate in Missouri featured Thomas in a campaign ad and asserted that “Women’s sports are for women, not men pretending to be women,” a transphobic trope belittling trans women.
Thomas swims in a qualifying heat of the 100-yard freestyle at the Ivy League Women's Swimming and Diving Championships on Saturday.

Yet Thomas’ success has vexed even those who say they support her transition, including some of her fellow swimmers. An anonymous letter written on behalf of 16 of her 40 Penn teammates earlier this month criticized what they saw as her “unfair advantage,” saying they supported her gender transition out of the pool but not necessarily in it.
This post was originally posted on CNN

Transgender Swimmers Bring Spotlight to Ivy Championship

There isn’t much to indicate anything other than a typical college swim meet is taking place this week at Harvard University’s Blodgett Pool.

No demonstrations or protests outside the building. But there is evidence of the discussion surrounding the sport during the past year.

An “8 Against Hate” sign is displayed above the pool between flags representing each of the schools competing in the Ivy League women’s swimming championship. Athletes from several schools also wore shirts featuring the statement.

There’s also the public address announcement made before every session that reminds spectators the conference is committed to putting on an event “free of racist, homophobic or transphobic discrimination.”

For Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig, it’s an example of the environment that has surrounded both for more than a year as they’ve sought to showcase their talents and compete at the sport’s highest level.

Their personal journeys and participation in the Ivy championships are the latest in an ongoing national conversation about the rules that govern the participation of transgender athletes in college athletics.

Both Thomas, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, and Henig, a junior at Yale University, are transgender.

Thomas is a transgender woman and former male swimmer for the Quakers, and has followed the NCAA and Ivy League’s rules since she began her transition in 2019 by starting hormone replacement therapy. Henig is swimming for Yale’s women’s team while transitioning to male, and he competes in some of the same events as Thomas.

Thomas has been a star this season, entering this week’s championship as the top qualifier in the 200-, 500- and 1,650-meter freestyle events. Some of her wins this season have been by wide margins, including in Thursday’s 500-meter freestyle final, which she won by half a pool length and set a new pool record in a time of 4:37.32.

It’s prompted some — purportedly on her own team — to question whether she has an advantage since she was born as a biological male.

At Penn’s final home swim meet of the season, protesters who opposed her participation yelled things like, “Stand up for women! Even when they’re swimming! Men cannot be women!”

But Thomas has also been beaten by Henig, who won a meeting last month in the 100-meter freestyle. Thomas finished sixth. They have a chance to go head-to-head again on Friday; Henig and Thomas are the top two qualifiers in the 100 freestyle.

Henig won Friday’s 50-meter freestyle final in a pool-record time of 21.93 and qualified fifth in the 200 freestyle.

Several states either have or are considering laws that would keep transgender girls and college-age women from playing in school sports leagues that match their gender identity. South Dakota’s governor signed a law that’s set to take effect July 1 to do just that, and Utah is considering creating a state commission to make decisions about transgender student-athletes participating in youth sports.

Ever-shifting requirements for transgender athletes at the NCAA and college levels briefly left Thomas’ participation in the Ivy championships and next month’s NCAA championships in doubt.

Last month, the NCAA said it would defer to the rules of each sport’s governing body to determine the eligibility of transgender athletes. On Feb. 1, USA Swimming released an update to its policies, requiring transgender women competing at the elite level to have small levels of testosterone — half the previous level Thomas was allowed to compete under — for 36 months before being eligible.

But citing “potentially detrimental impacts to schools and student-athletes,” the NCAA said in a statement last week that it wouldn’t alter the previously approved testosterone threshold for transgender women to compete at this year’s championships. It cleared the way for Thomas to be in the pool this week and next month.

Thomas and Penn coach Mike Schnur declined an interview request through an Ivy League official. Yale’s swim team and coaching staff won’t be conducting media interviews during this week’s championship, the same official said.

But in an interview prior to the NCAA’s policy change, Henigtold The Associated Press that the constant changes in policies were unwarranted.

“At every level, from elementary to collegiate, trans athletes have been competing for years — and the extremely negative predictions about what will happen to sports have already been shown to be false,” he said. “In every sport, at every level, there is a wide range of athletic abilities on display. Trans athletes are no different and don’t change this.”

Thomas’ only public interview this season was in December on the SwimSwam podcast. She said that she’s starting to find peace after feeling “trapped” in a man’s body for years prior to starting her transition.

“I’m feeling confident and good in my swimming and all my personal relationships,” she said, “and transitioning has allowed me to be more confident in all of those aspects of my life where I was struggling a lot before I came out.”

Post originally appeared in NBCChicago

Judges side with transgender man in protecting privacy of name changes

An appeals court on Wednesday ruled in favor of a transgender man who sought to seal his name change from the public record, declaring transgender people deserve privacy and protection from the harms that could arise from publicizing their name changes.

Superior Court Judge Michael J. Haas, writing for a unanimous three-judge appellate panel, overturned a lower court’s 2020 decision that would have required the Mercer County man, identified as A.B.C. in court records, to publish his new name and deadname in a newspaper. The lower court judge also refused to seal court records to avoid public disclosure of the man’s name and transgender identity.

A.B.C.’s name change has “no meaningful public interest,” Haas wrote.

“It is difficult to imagine a more intimate, personal, and private matter than whether a person’s gender identity conforms with the sex they were assigned at birth, typically based upon the existence and appearance of their reproductive organs, and their chromosomal makeup,” the ruling says.

Attorney Celeste Fiore, who represented A.B.C., called the ruling an example of “New Jersey law being at the forefront of equal rights nationwide.”

“These are some of the strongest statements by the courts describing the privacy interests, but also the human rights interests, in a transgender person having control over who knows things about their identity,” Fiore said.

The lower court judge in this case is Mercer County Judge William Anklowitz. Haas’ ruling says Anklowitz erred when he discounted A.B.C.’s fear that people who discover he is transgender could physically harm or discriminate against him. Anklowitz also should not have required A.B.C. to either show he’d personally experienced violence or discrimination because he is transgender, or cite study data of such transgender-related violence in New Jersey, the panel ruled.

The New Jersey Supreme Court in December 2020 — two months after Anklowitz’s ruling — eliminated requirements that name change applications and judgments be published, citing the need to protect the privacy and safety of transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary people who change their names to align with their gender identity.

A.B.C. asked Anklowitz to reconsider his ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s action, but Anklowitz in January 2021 instead doubled down on his refusal to seal A.B.C.’s name change filings. Haas called that “especially puzzling” — and potentially dangerous.

“By requiring that appellant’s name change application be publicly available, and thereby publicly identifying appellant as transgender, the court would violate appellant’s right to privacy and could heighten the risk of physical harm to appellant, or even facilitate such harm by making it easier for people to identify him as transgender,” Haas wrote.

Anklowitz did not respond to a request for comment.

“It is definitely a victory for A.B.C. to have his name change be sealed, certainly, but this is a statement to trans people saying, ‘We see you,’” Fiore said. “He is very excited that his name change is going to be confidential, and if this decision can help other people, he is thrilled that this process is going to result in an easier time for others.”

This case isn’t the first time Anklowitz upset the LGBT community with one of his rulings. In 2016, he used disparaging terms like “family-ish” when referring to a lesbian couple during proceedings in a civil lawsuit a woman filed after a Trenton fire truck hit and killed her partner in 2009, according to the Trentonian. Anklowitz’s decision and comments in that case drew rebukes from Garden State Equality and the New Jersey Bar Association.

Post originally appeared in New Jersey Monitor

He’s a Transgender Archivist and a Vampire, and He’s in Love

Once a concert pianist, Solomon Katz, the main character in Isaac Fellman’s new novel, “Dead Collections,” now applies his classically trained patience for tedium to archival work. He spends his days sorting materials beneath the Historical Society of Northern California. It’s a solitary, nocturnal job, but entombment works for Sol. Because, in addition to being an archivist and a transgender man, Sol is a vampire.

It’s tempting to slot into the most evident groove of interpretation with “Dead Collections”: that vampirism is a metaphor for being trans. After all, Isaac Fellman’s author bio states that he is also a transmasculine archivist in San Francisco. Sol is sustained by blood transfusions that read like a cross between chemotherapy and hormone replacement therapy (and he receives blood exclusively from male donors). He had only just come out as trans when he was turned into a vampire, so now he’s frozen in the first phases of transition, with his face just past “early-T puffiness.” And he has shunted himself into a different closet: Almost no one knows he’s a vampire.

But Sol’s story is much messier, much funnier and a lot more interesting than a one-to-one allegory, especially once he meets the sincere, luminescent Elsie. Elsie’s late wife, Tracy Britton, created “Feet of Clay,” a ’90s sci-fi show that was a catalyst for Sol’s gender and sexuality discovery. Elsie visits Sol’s office to donate Tracy’s personal papers, and within pages the two have fallen into a complicated, unglamorous, delicious affair. The story that unfolds around them is equal parts romance and mystery, as Sol reignites his will to live through Elsie while the archive’s collections begin to rapidly decay.

Fellman knows exactly to whom he’s writing: the Elsies and Sols of the world, grown-up queer nerds who perhaps once identified as cisgender despite fixating on characters with what can only be described as gender envy. People who know you can find yourself in fiction, but you can find even more of yourself in what you make of it. Elsie and Sol became experts on queer transfiguration through fandom and transformative fanworks. Fellman’s playful but deliberate approach to form, his deft way of presenting his own canon and then transfiguring it on the page, would feel familiar to them.

Some chapters take the form of archival materials: scripts, show bibles, emails and ephemeral, bite-size passages. In a series of late-1990s forum posts, Sol and Elsie recover a tense online exchange they once had as strangers in the “Feet of Clay” fandom, when they both thought they were cis lesbians but couldn’t agree on an ethical approach to queer fanworks. One of Fellman’s simplest but most effective form experiments is a matter-of-fact pronoun switch: When Elsie and Sol have gender-exploratory sex, the narration transmutes Elsie’s pronouns from “she” to “he” until his orgasm, a textual revelation of gender euphoria.

In another set of old forum posts, a much younger Sol concludes, in a frustrated flood of meta-analysis, that there was never any metaphor behind the shape-shifting alien race in “Feet of Clay.” Maybe the same is true for Sol’s vampirism. Maybe the most meaningful thing is how readers interpret the canon, and how they can transform it.

Sol, in a flashback, recalls his first time presenting as a man, at a sci-fi convention in cosplay as his favorite “Clay” character. “I felt like a different person — not Shalk, of course, that would be childish, but strong and secret,” he remembers. Years later, in the archives, he takes his first drink of blood during sex with Elsie and hears his voice lower for the first time since vampirism arrested his transition.

“Dead Collections” suggests that this is the potential of both fiction and love for a trans person. Both can be a mirror or a door or a crack in an egg, and in both, there’s room for transformation and self-expansion. Both can be experienced as an experimentation in one’s own form: gender. Gender can be the graceless act of discovery and affirmation, the ugly vitality of blood, the patient organizing and reshaping of something that’s never before been listened to correctly.

Post first appeared in NYTIMES

Exclusive: 1st openly transgender NYPD detective shares his story, challenges faced

NEW YORK (WABC) — The first out transgender detective in the NYPD is sharing his story and describing the ups and downs and the challenges he has faced.

Det. Ori Harbor grew up in Detroit with a younger sister and an older brother.

“I was the amazing middle child,” Harbor said. “He actually joined the Marines out of high school…my whole life I was trying to emulate my brother.”

Harbor also loved acting.

“I went to Brooklyn College, got my MFA in acting and after I graduated, I ended up staying in New York,” Harbor said.

Then after his brother died, Ori wanted to honor his legacy and serve too.

“I was really looking at it from lens of a Black person and a person of color, and how I can enter the NYPD and bring about that change,” Harbor said.

But after five years patrolling Brooklyn as a female officer, Harbor’s true change came from within.


“I first started thinking about gender identity, and what that means for me and how I truly identify versus what I was socialized to be,” Harbor said.

In 2012, Harbor began socially, physically and medically transitioning to a man.

His sister stopped talking to him and they ended up not speaking for about four years.

Meanwhile, at work…

“I came into the office one day and said, ‘My new name is Ori and my pronouns are he/him/his,'” Harbor said. “They were all confused, they didn’t know what the hell what I was taking about.”

Harbor said for the most part, they were open, accepting and affirming.


That is how he became the NYPD’s first openly transgender detective on the force.

“It is definitely monumental, we have other trans in department who aren’t out, but for me it’s important to be visible,” Harbor said.

The NYPD now has a transgender policy providing support to officers and Harbor hosts informational seminars, trying to educate others.

Harbor has been with the NYPD for 15 years and was promoted to detective in December.

“Ten to fifteen years from now, I hope transgender issues won’t be a thing, because we are living in a world that is equal and fair, and right now, in regard to transgender protection and rights and laws, we’re not there yet.”

This post first appeared on ABC7

NCAA ruling clears path for transgender swimmer Lia Thomas to compete at nationals

The path for Penn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas to compete in the NCAA championships next month seems to be clear after the NCAA announced Thursday that it would not adopt a new USA Swimming policy for the winter championships.

The decision followed a recommendation from the administrative subcommittee of the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CSMAS) to the NCAA board of governors.ADVERTISEMENT

“The subcommittee decided implementing additional changes at this time could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in 2022 NCAA women’s swimming championships,” the NCAA said in a statement.

Penn said it would continue to work with the NCAA regarding Thomas’ eligibility for the event.

The rules governing transgender athletes’ participation on the collegiate level have been murky since Jan. 19, when the NCAA announced a policy change. Revising a policy from 2010, which applied across all sports, the NCAA opted to adopt each sport’s national governing body policy, allowing for different policies across sports.

But for the upcoming winter and spring championships, the NCAA stated that athletes who had been in compliance with the 2010 policy need only to demonstrate a testosterone serum level below the “maximum allowable limit” for that sport within four weeks of the championship. The limit for women’s swimming had been set at 10 nanomoles per liter, the same threshold used by previous Olympic rules but double the threshold in the new USA Swimming policy.

USA Swimming announced its new rules for elite swimmers on Feb. 1. That policy includes a requirement that transgender women swimmers demonstrate they have maintained a testosterone level below 5 nanomoles per liter continuously for at least 36 months before competition. It also requires transgender women to provide evidence that they do not have a competitive advantage from being assigned male at birth. That evidence will be reviewed by a panel of three independent medical experts.

These rules apply to events designated as “elite” by USA Swimming — such as the U.S. Open and Junior Nationals — to USA Swimming members and to those wishing to be eligible for American records beginning with the 13-14 age group.

Neither the lower testosterone threshold nor the required length of time for testosterone suppression will be used at the upcoming NCAA championships.

“I’m happy to see the NCAA acknowledge that implementing additional policy changes at this time would have unfair and detrimental impacts on student-athletes who are currently competing,” inclusion advocate and transgender athlete Chris Mosier said. “The next step is for the NCAA to establish a process for reviewing, modifying as needed, and implementing these policies by a specific date each academic year to prevent further reactionary policy changes in the future.”

Three-time swimming Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar disagreed with the decision.

“Once again, biological women’s cry for fair sports competition has gone unheard,” Hogshead-Makar said. “If you re-read the NCAA’s statement, biological women’s interests were never considered. They were never mentioned. I’m sadly aware that [cisgender] women’s exclusion from the table has been purposeful. I assure you, women are determined to rectify their sport’s eligibility criteria to be consistent with science and fairness.”

The NCAA announcement comes on the same day that more than 300 swimmers signed an open letter to the CSMAS supporting Thomas and urging the committee not to adopt the new USA Swimming transgender athlete policy ahead of the NCAA Division I championships in March.

Among the signatures were five of Thomas’ current teammates, swimmers representing each of the Power 5 conferences and Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Erica Sullivan.

“With this letter, we express our support for Lia Thomas, and all transgender college athletes, who deserve to be able to participate in safe and welcoming athletic environments,” the letter said. “We urge you to not allow political pressure to compromise the safety and wellbeing of college athletes everywhere.”

Thomas has posted some of the nation’s best times in the 200-, 500-, and 1,650-yard freestyle events this season. On Feb. 3, 16 members of Penn’s women’s swimming and diving team, along with their families, wrote to the NCAA asking the organization to adopt the new USA Swimming rules for transgender athletes.

Thomas is expected to compete in the Ivy League swimming championships next week at Harvard.

This post originally appeared in ESPN

TikTok star Emira D’Spain is Victoria’s Secret’s first black transgender model

TikTok personality Emira D’Spain is celebrating becoming the first black transgender model to work with Victoria’s Secret.

Emira — better known on social media as XOXOEMIRA — has produced a Valentine’s Day TikTok in collaboration with the lingerie brand.

In 2019, Brazilian beauty Valentina Sampaio made history as the first transgender woman ever to work with Victoria’s Secret for its VS PINK line.

Now, Sampaio has been named as the new face of Armani Beauty, featuring in the brand’s 2022 campaigns lensed by Swedish photographer Mikael Jansson.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret is ditching its former ads with perilously thin, mostly white models, and is pivoting to working with creators on TikTok for authentic content beyond a glamorous photo.

Emira — who is signed with Andrew Warren’s marketing agency, CollXab — was born in Dubai, raised in Dallas, and now lives in New York.

She uses her TikTok platform to offer her followers insights on beauty and fashion, and also talks about her transition, dating, friendships and life in New York City.

Last year, she also collaborated with big-name brands including Nars, Ugg, Google, Anastasia Beverly Hills and Fenty Skin.

This post originally appeared in page six