Tech has been thrust into the national spotlight this week, with the debate over transgender rights in athletics brought to campus as the Institute hosts the NCAA Swim and Diving Championships at the McAuley Aquatic Center.
On March 14, two days before the championships began, the Institute’s student chapter of Turning Point USA along with the Leadership Institute brought conservative political commentator Matt Walsh to the Instructional Center to discuss his views on transgender women competing in women’s sports.
“Turning Point USA is a 5013c non-profit organization with chapters all around the country who proudly support freedom, free markets and limited government,” Megan Johnson, third-year IE and president of Tech’s chapter of Turning Point, said. “[We encourage] people to think freely and critically, both of which are essential to ‘Creating the Next.’”
Johnson specifically sought to bring Walsh to campus to speak on the controversy surrounding University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a transgender athlete set to compete in the women’s championship this week.
“Given that the NCAA swim meet is being hosted at our campus, we felt it appropriate to speak out against the injustice of allowing biological men to compete against women,” Johnson said. “Matt Walsh has been outspoken about the subject, so he seemed like a clear choice.”
Ryan Kann, second-year BIO and ALIS major, has actively stood in opposition of the event, speaking against it on public forums leading up to Monday night’s event. Kann himself is transgender and was formerly a competitive swimmer, before fear of using locker rooms during his transition drove him away from the pool.
“People think that trans athletes are a new thing or that suddenly trans athletes are a huge threat to sports,” Kann told the Technique. “Trans athletes have been allowed in the Olympics since 2004. The first trans woman to compete in the Olympics with the women was in the 2020 Olympics, a weightlifter who didn’t complete her lifts, much less ‘dominate’ the field.”
Kann, a pre-med student, is especially interested in studying the endocrinology of gender transition. Combining his experience with transitioning and his passion for biology, Kann is looking to pursue a career assisting transgender youth with their transitions.
“Testosterone is what people are concerned about, since it’s a steroid and can be used in doping, but your blood testosterone level has to be under a certain amount to compete with the women anyway,’’ Kann said. “There’s no consistency in the way that these people present their data. If trans people need to compete with their sex assigned at birth, does that mean I need to start swimming with the girls again even though I’ve been taking testosterone for over four years? … They don’t care because they fail to take trans men into account. … People are only taking issue with it now because of a perceived threat from trans women.” In opposition of this rhetoric, Walsh voiced his criticism of the transgender community throughout the event on Monday. “The Trans agenda has infiltrated our society largely through language,” Walsh said during his talk. “I am a fan of the truth. … The word ‘woman’ just like the word ‘man’ has a definition. A woman by definition is an adult, human female, as the literal definition for a man by definition is an adult male. Now, those are the only two options available for a human species.” Alongside Turning Point’s program, Tech’s Pride Alliance organization hosted a simultaneous event in the Molecular Science and Engineering Building to “affirm and support trans identities,” garnering support from dozens of students who helped to create posters with positive messages for the transgender community.
“Pride Alliance hosted an event occurring at the same time as the Matt Walsh event to foster pride and show solidarity with the trans community,” Kann said. “People made signs to show their support to hang around campus. Those who wanted to were given the opportunity to take the signs to protest outside the Instructional Center, but many just made nice posters to hang up without interacting with those who attended Walsh’s talk. This event allowed people to spend time together and show that trans people are loved and valuable through a positive, enjoyable activity.” Walsh’s event led to protestors outside of the Instructional Center. Tech students held up transgender pride flags and signs opposing Walsh’s message, with some gaining attention on national news outlets.
Not only a historically well-attended event for Turning Point, the event and its coinciding protest garnered national attention for the Institute and its student body. “Whether people agree or disagree with the message, we hope that it provoked conversations and encouraged people to speak out against the injustice in women’s sports,” Johnson said. “This was the largest event we have hosted to date and we are excited to have gotten so much support with a packed crowd and an even larger online audience.”
On Thursday morning Thomas became the first trans-woman to compete in the NCAA Championship meet, placing first overall in the prelims of the 500 Freestyle. Her time of 4:33.82 is 2.97 seconds ahead of second place going into finals.