Former UK Swimmer Riley Gaines Speaks at UF on Transgender People Competing in Sports

Former UK Swimmer Riley Gaines Speaks at UF on Transgender People Competing in Sports

On March 21, former University of Kentucky (UK) swimmer and director of the Riley Gaines Center at conservative activist organization the Leadership Institute, Riley Gaines, spoke at the Reitz Grand Ballroom at the University of Florida (UF). Gaines spoke primarily on her beliefs about transgender individuals competing in sports. Gaines also discussed her previous experience at a similar speaking event at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and her belief that the Bible serves as an explanation of recent events.

Gaines gained fame and notoriety for speaking on what some see as advocation for fairness in women's sports and what others see as advocation for the exclusion of transgender women from sports. She tied for 5th with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in the women's 200 yard freestyle and saw her win a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship in the women's 500 yard freestyle.

Gaines has recently testified against proposed changes to Title 9 by the Department of Education before Congress and has brought a lawsuit before the NCAA with other college swimmers alleging a violation of their Title 9 rights by allowing Thomas to compete. 

Gaines began talking about her previous experience on her speaking tour at SFSU, alleging protesters physically assaulted her. According to Gaines, after turning the lights off, protesters rushed into the back and front of the room and began shoving her and punching her in the face. She stated that the protesters held her for ransom, demanding $10 each for her release. 

Gaines wanted to prosecute everyone involved, from individual protesters to the college administration; however, police told her she could not due to a lack of evidence. 

video from Gaines’ phone shows the lights turning off and protesters chanting, “trans rights are human rights.” After being escorted out of the room by officers, the video shows a protester calling Gaines a “transphobic bitch” while putting a phone close to her face. 

The video Gaines posted does not show evidence of physical assault or battery; however, there was a protester standing in the doorway Gaines was walking through before the video went dark and shaky for roughly 10 seconds. The officers created distance between the protester and Gaines due to their proximity.

Gaines talked about being frequently name-called, being referred to as a “bigot,” “transphobe,” and a plethora of other terms. 

Chief of Staff at the Pride Student Union at UF, Cassie Urbenz, said Gaines was hypocritical for her statements on name calling. 

“The fact she was referring to that as name calling when she was being referred to as transphobic. I would like to see what she would think if she took the time to humanize the trans woman she dehumanizes… She does the same thing in retaliation,” Urbenz said, referring to when Gaines described transgender women as “men wearing dresses” when she was speaking about the alleged attacks on her at SFSU.

Gaines talked about her experience competing with Thomas during the 2022 NCAA Division 1 Women's Swimming & Diving Championships, saying she and her fellow swimmers were uncomfortable sharing the same changing space as Thomas and describing the attitudes around Thomas’ competing. 

“I can testify to the tears in the stands—not just the moms who were seeing their daughters being obliterated in the sport they once loved, but the tears from the girls who missed out on being an All-American by one place. I can wholeheartedly attest to the extreme discomfort in the locker room. When you turn around, there is a [6' 1] 22-year-old man who is fully intact and exposing himself inches away from where you were simultaneously fully undressed. I can wholeheartedly attest to the whispers of anger and frustration from these girls, who, just like myself, worked their entire lives to get here.”

Gaines called the experience traumatic and described how Thomas’ teammates at the University of Pennsylvania were told to seek counseling if they were uncomfortable with the situation.  

Gaines went on to describe how Thomas’ score indicates an unfair advantage. 

“The first event was the 500-yard freestyle, which is not one I do, so I sat on the side and watched as Thomas swam to a national title, beating out Olympians and American record holders. These are the most accomplished swimmers this world has ever seen, and [Thomas] beat them by body lengths. One second might not sound like a lot of time, but in a sport that comes down to a hundredth of a second, it is significant.” 

Urbenz responded, saying Thomas had her own uncomfortable situations and competitive challenges as a transgender woman. 

“If Riley had any context of the fact that trans women get so much shit, death threats, and the ability to exist as themselves. Then it would be a little bit better and easier to have a genuine dialogue instead of being like, ‘You're a transphobe…’ Lia should’ve never competed with men, she should’ve had access to gender-confirming care whenever she wanted it. 

The system is hard to navigate as a trans person, and she never got the opportunity to have that nuance added to her existence, which is not okay. Lia had two choices, she could misgender herself or unfairly compete with a biological advantage. She is 6 foot. I looked at the pictures, I get it…but Lia should’ve been able to compete as a woman with gender affirming care from the beginning so that wouldn't be such a dramatic difference for Riley.”

Urbenz went on to say how there is a need to understand the systems which implore Gaines’ perspective. 

“She is transphobic, but is it her fault? No, it's because of systems that exist and I'm more angry at the reason that everything has happened than at her… I have had a similar experience to Riley in being judged quickly, she’s lumped in as this huge bigot and I’m often judged as an angry queer progressive… I don’t think she is baseless or evil, but she is bigoted and a transphobe.”

Throughout her speech, Gaines primarily referred to Thomas using male pronouns and her last name. Gaines additionally mentioned her interactions with two transgender men in her career, one being an assistant swimming coach at her college and another being a competitor on the women's team due to him not yet meeting hormone replacement requirements put in place for transgender athletes by the NCAA. Gaines prefaced their names with the names they used before publicly transitioning and frequently referred to both men with pronouns they no longer use. 

Urbenz said Gaines deadnaming transgender individuals sets a harmful precedent. 

“It's making it seem like it's okay to deadname someone… It sets the precedent for other situations, where it's not as easy to find the deadname and makes other people think it's okay to deadname a trans person.”

Nearing the end of her talk, Gaines expressed biblical sentiment as an explanation of recent events. 

“The Bible tells us why this is happening. Paul warns us... He tells us that we will reach a point where these spiritual battles intensify. We'll see how, now, bitter is seen as sweet, dark is seen as light, and evil is seen as moral. It’s undeniable, that is where we’re at now. That's not me saying people who identify as trans are evil, but I do believe wholeheartedly that deceit is evil. I do believe manipulation, temptation, lying, and affirming delusions are evil. Who moves through lies, deceit, and darkness? God’s opposition.” 

Urbenz said Gaines has expressed this sentiment to tarnish the character of transgender individuals and to imply evilness in their sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“It’s circular logic, she’s trying to make herself look good by being like ‘they’re people,’ ‘they’re not evil…’ It's a public relations tactic.”

Before leaving the amphitheater, Gaines answered a series of pre-approved questions during a Q&A session. She will continue traveling around the United States and spreading her beliefs to other universities. 



Jack Walden

Jack Walden

Jack Walden is the creator of Gnvinfo and a 2nd year journalism major at Santa Fe College. From general information, to exposing falsehoods and corruption, Jack seeks to deliver the truth.
Gainesville, FL