During a significant testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Paula Scanlan, a former NCAA Division I swimmer and advisor at the Independent Women’s Forum, shed light on the contentious situation involving Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete competing in women’s swimming at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).
The controversy arose when female swimmers expressed discomfort undressing next to Thomas, who is a 6-foot-4 tall biological male with fully intact male genitalia, during swimming practices.
Scanlan passionately conveyed her and her teammates’ frustration and humiliation as they raised concerns with the university’s athletic department, only to be met with dismissive responses. The university officials suggested counseling to “reeducate” the female athletes to be comfortable with undressing in front of Thomas. Scanlan emphasized that the university’s response essentially gaslighted and invalidated the female athletes’ feelings, prioritizing Thomas’ identity over their concerns.
Amidst this controversy, Alanna W Shanahan currently serves as the Director of Athletics and Recreation at the University of Pennsylvania. Shanahan’s tenure has seen notable competitive success, with Penn’s teams achieving a school-record 60th rank in the Learfield Directors’ Cup for consecutive years.
Under her leadership, the Quakers secured nine regular-season conference team championships and five postseason conference titles. However, Shanahan has faced scrutiny in handling the backlash from the Lia Thomas controversy.
Lia Thomas had previously competed on the male team and transitioned in 2019 before joining the female team in 2021. Concerned swim parents wrote a letter questioning the integrity of women’s sports and the fair treatment of female athletes, voicing concerns about the precedent set by allowing transgender women to compete. Despite their plea, the NCAA remained unresponsive. In response, Shanahan sent a message to the team expressing full support for all swimming student-athletes and encouraging those upset about the situation to utilize available resources.
Scanlan, however, believes the issue goes beyond her former team’s discomfort. She wrote an opinion article discussing scientific differences between biological males and females, which was taken down shortly after publication, leading her to advocate for free speech. Scanlan’s testimony was part of a committee meeting titled ‘The Dangers and Due Process Violations of Gender-Affirming Care,’ organized by Republicans in control of the House committee. Chloe Cole, a 19-year-old detransitioner, also joined Scanlan, sharing her experiences in suing the doctors responsible for administering hormones and performing surgery on her breasts.
As the debate surrounding Lia Thomas’ participation in women’s swimming competitions continues, it remains a highly sensitive issue at the heart of the broader national discourse about the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sports. The ongoing controversy raises crucial questions about balancing inclusivity and fairness while ensuring the integrity of women’s sports and preserving safe spaces for female athletes.