Riley Gaines Barker and Pastor Gary Hamrick at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia
LEESBURG, VIRGINIA—When Riley Gaines’s hand hit the wall, she immediately looked at the scoreboard. The event was the 2022 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships and she found herself in a tie for fifth place in the 200-meter freestyle, down to the hundredth of a second.
Her competitor was transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, formerly known as Will Thomas. Thomas competed for the University of Pennsylvania for three seasons as a male swimmer and was ranked 462nd. Under NCAA guidelines, males can compete against females after completing a year of testosterone suppression treatment. Thomas began racing against women in 2022 and was ranked first.
At the awards ceremony, Gaines received disheartening news from an official. Only one fifth-place trophy was available, and it would to be given to Lia Thomas for the purpose of capturing pictures. Gaines recalled being told, “They made that clear. ‘Riley, you can pose with this trophy, but bottom line, you have to give yours back. Lia takes the trophy home. End of story.’”
The incident angered Gaines, who felt the female swimmers were being compelled to validate one man’s feelings and identity at the expense of their own. “That’s when I realized I was no longer willing to lie, [which is] what they were asking us to do when they were asking us to smile, happily smile, and step aside and allow these men onto our podiums, taking our scholarships, and our titles, and our opportunities,” she said.
Gaines, also known as Riley Gaines Barker, spoke about her experiences Sunday at Cornerstone Chapel in Loudoun County, accompanied by her husband, Louis Barker. Gaines graduated last year from the University of Kentucky where she was a 12-time All American NCAA swimmer. Currently she’s the head coach of a Special Olympics swim team in Tennessee.
Gaines revealed swimmers were not informed in advance that Thomas would be using the women’s locker room with them at the NCAA Championships, leaving many felt violated.
She immediately sought an official to ask what guidelines allowed it. “Oh, we actually got around this by making the locker rooms unisex,” came the response.
Gaines pointed out the flaws of this approach. “I said, one, by admitting you had to change the rules, you’re admitting that this in fact is not a woman. And two, unisex? So any man…who wanted to be in that locker room would have full access,” she explained.
The swimmers were then told “we were the ones who needed to seek counseling if we didn’t feel comfortable” with a biological male undressing in the woman’s locker room, she said.
“We kind of are getting to the point where we’re in this George Orwell dystopian novel,” she continued. “It finally hit me: If we as women, as female athletes, weren’t willing to stick up for ourselves, it wasn’t fair for us to expect someone else to.”
So she began speaking against transgender males competing in women’s sports, even though her message isn’t always well-received.
After delivering a speech at San Francisco State University on April 6, Gaines was punched twice by a man in a dress. Security escorted her to a room for safety, where she stayed for over three hours while protesters demanded a ransom to let her leave.
“All for saying there are two sexes and you can’t change your sex,” Gaines said. Those who oppose her want people to deny “the most basic of truths, the sheer essence of humanity, a man and woman.”
On June 21 Gaines told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Thomas’s teammates had to attend weekly mandatory, LGBTQ education meetings, where they learned of their alleged oppression of Thomas due to their being cisgender. “They told these girls that if you do speak out, and any harm whatsoever comes toward Thomas’s way, whether that’s through social media, whether that’s physical, mental, emotional harm, then you are solely responsible, and you could be responsible for a potential death. And you don’t want that, do you?
“Of course not. Who would ever want to be responsible in a potential death? But that is the emotional blackmail that is plaguing this country, especially in universities,” Gaines told the committee.
In Leesburg this weekend, Gaines said the backlash and emotional toil she’s experienced are worthwhile when considering the future of young children, the rights of past female athletes who fought for Title IX, the current female athletes who feel silenced.
She advocates for objective and biblical truth, urging parents to “defend your daughters and teach your sons masculinity. Masculinity is not this undesirable trait.”
Riley Gaines Barker
Attendees at Gaines’s event expressed their support and admiration for her courage.
A woman who wished to remain anonymous said, “It was heartbreaking to hear that there was nobody to stand up for her or give her guidance. As a mom, that really triggered me. I think we forget the personal aspect that these are kids and we’re there to protect them and look out for them.”
It angered this mother to realize that her 7-year-old daughter, who’s also a swimmer, “could one day have something taken away from her because our society has become accustomed to not wanting to offend anybody. Children are not just tagalongs to our life as adults. No. They’re humans that deserve to be given a straight shot.”
Kevin Milgram, father of four, concurred. “As a dad of two daughters, I can relate to the experience of seeing them succeed at something they’ve worked hard at, and having that stripped away for no other reason than to gratify someone and play into a political movement that has no grounding in truth,” Milgram said.
Annabelle Tran agreed that biological males should not compete against biological females. “It’s delusional to let a man think he’s a woman just because he’s taken hormones,” she said.
Many in attendance on Sunday said they were encouraged by Gaines speaking out about her experience. “It’s inspiring that as a gifted athlete herself, Riley was able to tie him,” Milgram added. “It’s infuriating that she was treated that way. At a bare minimum, she deserves to experience the thrill of the victory that she earned rightfully.”
“I think a certain level of feminism is good, but people nowadays are taking it too far, especially with the transgender movement,” said Virginia Merritt, 16. “The stuff Riley went through really proves how the transgender movement is affecting people, because that’s not normal, that amount of hate and that level of [taking offense].”
Marco Coada, 17, of Georgia agreed. The LGBTQ community expects others to accept their beliefs, but instead of giving Gaines the same consideration, they assaulted her, he said.
“Men and women are obviously biologically different,” Coada noted. “To say that they can compete in the same sports…isn’t fair. They shouldn’t be put in the same category. If there’s a women’s only sport, it should be women only.”
Joe Parker, father of three daughters, welcomed Gaines’s testimony. “I think God prepares certain people for times like this. I’m very happy that my little girls have a role model who’s out there in public,” he said.
“She spoke with such faith and strength” said Kelsey White, 17. “It really inspired me to take a stand for what I believe in.”