A small group of demonstrators gathered outside the NCAA Convention in San Antonio on Thursday to protest the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s college sports.
The protest was attended by former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who competed against University of Pennsylvania transgender athlete Lia Thomas in last year’s NCAA swimming and diving championships.
Speaking outside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Gaines said to NCAA officials: “We’ve created a petition with almost 10,000 signatures from people around the country who want to support keeping female sports female.”
Current NCAA policy stipulates that transgender student-athlete participation for each sport is “to be determined by the policy for the national governing body of that sport” in alignment with the policies of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committees.
Gaines has previously spoken about the matter in campaign ads with former US Senate candidate Herschel Walker in Georgia and at a rally held by Donald Trump.
The demonstration was organized by several groups, including the Independent Council on Women’s Sports (ICONS).
ICONS released a statement on Thursday, saying: “They [the NCAA] must protect female athletes from discrimination on the basis of sex, or expect we will be forced to take legal steps to compel them to do so.”
The statement calls for the NCAA to “comply with U.S. civil rights law” by “repealing all policies that allow male athletes to take roster spots on women’s teams and/or compete in women’s events.”
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar was at the protest and tweeted: “Sports teaches strategic thinking. But weirdly, the NCAA is not listening; it’s doggedly pursuing a losing strategy: people are LESS empathetic to transgender athletes after they see males compete in our sports, denying female opportunities.”
The protest was also attended by Christiana Kiefer, attorney for religious freedom group Alliance Defending Freedom, which has faced criticism for being anti-LGBTQ rights.
Kiefer tweeted an image of her speaking at the event, with the caption: “NCAA: we’re talking to you. It’s time to stop discriminating against female athletes and protect #womenssports!”
Athlete Ally – a pro-LGBTQ rights group that works to “dismantle the systems of oppression in sport that isolate, exclude and endanger LGBTQI+ people” – released a statement to CNN condemning the demonstration and its intentions.
“We want to see all athletes, including transgender and nonbinary athletes, protected from harm,” the statement reads. “Demonstrations like this that present transgender people as threats to women’s sports – rather than the humans they are – are not only factually incorrect, but are also deeply harmful and help foster the violence and harassment these youth are already facing.
“Those concerned about threats to women’s sports should focus on what we know to be the real, documented threats: unequal pay, sexual abuse and harassment, a lack of resources for women athletes, and a lack of women in leadership – all issues that were discussed during the convention the protestors were standing outside of.”
The NCAA confirmed to CNN that it had received the petition from an external group related to the association’s transgender student-athlete participation policy and would respond after reviewing the document.