If Riley Gaines had it to do over again, the All-American swimmer says she’d have never raced against Lia Thomas. It would’ve meant giving up everything she’d trained for — but some things, she’s decided, are more important than titles. “I believe everything happened for a reason, but I wish I realized what a slippery slope this was when we were told to smile and step aside so a man could have our place at the podium,” Riley insisted. “My actions would be different now, and I wouldn’t compete. I know it’s easier said than done, but sacrifices are necessary for the greater good.”
More than a year and a half after the moment that changed her life forever, Riley has made plenty of sacrifices. As the face of the movement to save women’s sports, she’s been targeted, harassed, and mocked — and that was just Tuesday.
Though Gaines wasn’t surrounded, punched, or held hostage, she was openly demeaned by people claiming to be leaders in Congress. As a witness in the Republicans’ hearing, “The Importance of Protecting Female Athletics and Title IX,” Riley talked about what it was like to be a pawn in the NCAA’s political game. Despite tying with Thomas, a biological male, Gaines was intentionally elbowed out of the spotlight. “I was denied the trophy because the NCAA claimed it was necessary for Thomas to hold the trophy when photos were being taken,” she explained.
But if anything was worse than being forced to “validate the feelings and the identity of a male,” Riley fumed, it’s that she and the other girls were forced to share an intimate locker room with the same man. “And as I’ve testified previously, we were not forewarned of this arrangement,” she said of being confronted with Thomas’s “fully intact male genitalia.” “We were not asked for our consent, and we did not give our consent to this exposure and to be exploited.”
Female Democrats (and their chosen witnesses) shrugged off Gaines’s concerns, insisting that anyone trying to keep men out of girls’ sports is a bigot. “It’s disappointing to me,” leftist Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) said, “that although the title of this hearing implies a much-needed discussion we’re likely going to be forced to listen to transphobic bigotry. Because actually protecting female athletes and Title IX is important. Participating in sports provides so many benefits to our young people.”
“… [If] my testimony makes me a transphobic bigot,” Riley fired back, “then I believe your opening monologue makes you a misogynist,” she declared to Lee, who, ironically, tried to have Gaines’s comment scrubbed from the record. Like most Republicans, Doug LaMalfa (Calif.) was appalled by the exchange, pointing out the absurdity that Lee would move to have Riley’s response stricken “because she cared to disagree with the [Democrats’] name-calling…”
“I believe being called transphobic for saying that women deserve privacy, that we deserve safety, that we deserve equal opportunities, that we deserve to maintain our dignity — I believe that is certainly an attack on my character,” Riley interjected.
Another “squad” member, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) leaped into the ridiculous by suggesting that the people protecting girls’ sports would be “opening up all women and girls to genital examinations when they are underage, potentially just because someone can point to someone and say, ‘I don’t think you are a girl.’”
In one of the hearing’s more jaw-dropping moments, Fatima Goss Graves, president of the so-called National Women’s Law Center, suggested that girls like Riley “learn to lose gracefully,” a statement roundly mocked on social media. “I don’t know what the National Women’s Law Center does,” Christian Collins tweeted, “but if this is their president, they aren’t helping women.” Tennis great Martina Navratilova was equally infuriated. “I think National Women’s Law center needs to change their name and just be called National Law Center,” she posted. “No point calling it women’s law center since according to the president there are so many variations of women?”
Ranking Republican Lisa McClain (Mich.) was appalled, calling Graves’s “lose gracefully” advice a “slap in the face of any athlete who worked so hard.” “I am a woman,” she insisted, “and let me tell you, hear me roar, because I will not stop protecting women. You want to know why? Because we have rights, too. … And our daughters have rights, too. Let me be explicitly clear on that — I will never stop protecting our daughters. I will never stop protecting women. That is my job as a mother, and it is the right thing to do.”
Graves, unfortunately, did little to dig herself out of the hole she’d created, at one point outing herself as a graduate of the Ketanji Brown Jackson School of Biology by saying she couldn’t answer if men and women are different because, after all, she’s “not a scientist.” Instead, she accused Gaines and others of making the hearing “about attacking and dehumanizing transgender people” — a charge Riley didn’t take lightly.
“There’s a place for everybody to play sports in this country,” Gaines said, noting transgender Americans were included in her view. “But unsafe, unfair and discriminatory practices must stop.” All the Left cares about, she argued, is “minimize[ing] harm to trans-identified athletes.” “But what about the harm to us?” she demanded. “Who was working to minimize the harm done to female athletes?”
Macy Petty, a former Family Research Council intern, is one of the growing chorus of athletes affected by the Left’s march through girls’ sports. As an NCAA volleyball player, she’s had to face off against a male player — despite the obvious advantage the women’s game provided. “When the rule-makers ignored the basic biological differences, they ignored the fact that women’s volleyball nets are over seven inches shorter than men’s volleyball nets,” she pointed out. “Simple things like that that acknowledge the differences between sexes and allow us to also pursue athletic excellence. But in ignoring that, they allowed this male athlete … [to] use so many biological advantages against us as female athletes. And at this point of my life, I was trying to compete in front of her recruiters for an athletic and academic scholarship one day.”
Macy was catapulted into the spotlight when she decided to speak out about the injustice of it all, walking a path blazed, in large part, by Riley Gaines. Like so many female athletes, she’s watched Gaines do battle with everyone from members of Congress to talk show hosts and extremist students without giving an inch.
“I thought that Riley did a fantastic job today,” she told FRC President Tony Perkins on “Washington Watch” after the hearing. “I know that I was among many who were praying for her, just that she could relay truth and light into Congress. And I think that’s exactly what she did. She went in with a clear message and simply said, ‘We cannot keep elevating this, this inclusion message and leave behind so many female athletes who have been fighting their entire lives to be collegiate athletes, to be high school athletes. And this message that they keep pushing is definitely reversing the clock 50 years and going against the original intent of Title IX.”
As she’s linked arms with women and girls across the country, Macy says that “something that has been increasingly clear to me is that this is a spiritual battle, and that this is a war on the creation and the Creator Himself, and an attack on what it means to be male and female.” But as she’s exposed to more hostility, she says she’s equally encouraged by the light starting to shine through the darkness. “Thankfully, I’ve seen more and more people lean into the Word of God and just the confidence that He can bring throughout the fight.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.
EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.
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