Erica Sullivan Writes Op-Ed Piece in Newsweek, Supporting Lia Thomas

Lia Thomas and Erica Sullivan. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Prior to the start of the 2022 NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, Olympian and NCAA contender Erica Sullivan commented on the Lia Thomas transgender situation simply by telling Swimming World, “I just feel bad for her.”

On Friday, after competing against Thomas in the 500 freestyle, Thomas went one step further and wrote an op-ed piece for Newsweek in support of Thomas.

“I have been given a platform to advocate for my community, and I can’t sit silently by as I see a fellow swimmer’s fundamental rights be put up for debate. All swimmers embody a diverse set of identities and characteristics. What makes us each unique also contributes to our success in the pool. Yet no one questions the validity of how cisgender athletes’ unique traits and skills, or who they are, contribute to their success. However, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas has been unfairly targeted for just that—for being who she is, a transgender woman,” Sullivan wrote in the op-ed piece.

“Like anyone else in this sport, Lia has trained diligently to get to where she is and has followed all of the rules and guidelines put before her. Like anyone else in this sport, Lia doesn’t win every time. And when she does, she deserves, like anyone else in this sport, to be celebrated for her hard-won success, not labeled a cheater simply because of her identity.

… Many of those who oppose transgender athletes like Lia being able to participate in sports claim to be “protecting women’s sports.” As a woman in sports, I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women’s sports are: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources and a lack of women in leadership. Transgender girls and women are nowhere on this list. Women’s sports are stronger when all women—including trans women—are protected from discrimination, and free to be their true selves.

… I’m proud to be one of more than 300 NCAA, Team USA and Olympic swimmers who signed an open letter from Schuyler Bailar and Athlete Ally in support of Lia and all transgender and nonbinary swimmers. At the NCAA championships, I’ll be cheering on Lia and all of the amazing swimmers that make this sport great by being authentically and proudly themselves.”

Sullivan was a U.S. Olympian in 2021, and she captured the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in the 1500-meter free. With her performances, Sullivan became the first openly-lesbian swimmer to qualify for a U.S. Olympic team and then to win an Olympic medal.

“I feel bad for Lia because imagine being on a team where you know some people don’t want you there. That’s just a terrible environment to be in. I feel like I’m in an environment at Texas where I’m accepted by everyone here,” Erica Sullivan said. “If they’re not, they haven’t verbalized it to me. They’ve kept it to themselves, very supportive of my relationship, love it when I make my jokes. They’re very supportive of who I am as a person, and I just feel bad that Lia doesn’t have that.”