UF YAF Hosts Former UPenn Swimmer Paula Scanlan Speaking Against Transgender Athlete Lia Thomas

UF YAF Hosts Former UPenn Swimmer Paula Scanlan Speaking Against Transgender Athlete Lia Thomas

On February 27th, conservative student organization Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) hosted former University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) swimmer Paula Scanlan at the University of Florida (UF). Scanlan is the former teammate of the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA championship, Lia Thomas. 

After questioning her gender identity throughout high school, Thomas came out as transgender to her family after her freshman year of college, and to her teammates in her junior year. Thomas played on the men's team as a woman until her senior year after becoming eligible upon completing hormone replacement therapy.

At the start of the event, chairwoman of UF YAF, Caitlyn McCoy, thanked the attendees for "furthering the conservative movement and beyond,” going on to say, “We live in a society where men can claim to be women and women can claim to be men, and if you say anything against these delusions, you’re a racist, a sexist, or a bigot.”

She went on to say that men and women are fundamentally different after referencing promotional posters for the event that were torn apart and put inside a trash can.


After thanking YAF’s sponsors, she introduced Scanlan.  

Scanlan started by thanking UF’s president, former United States Senator Ben Sasse, for allowing her to speak, saying her speeches wouldn’t normally be accepted on college campuses.

Scanlan talked about her experience on UPenn’s swimming team, saying at the start of it, “There were no hiccups; there were no men competing as women.” Before saying that she thought it was a joke when Thomas first said she would be competing on the women's team.  

Scanlan referred to Thomas with male pronouns throughout her speech. 

Scanlan went on to talk about how, after Thomas came out, she started campaigning against her. Her main points were that Thomas had an advantage due to having XY chromosomes and that she and her fellow teammates were uncomfortable changing in the same locker room as her, with at least one choosing to change in the family bathroom. 

Scanlan recalled how after complaining, the university called a team meeting without Thomas to discuss the situation.

"There were a few people from the health department, a counselor, someone from the LGBT Center, and an administrator. They looked at us and they said 'Leah being on this team is non-negotiable. If you speak out against it, it will follow you for the rest of your life. You will never be able to get a job...' The counselor said 'If you continue to object please seek counseling...' Are they trying to change your brain? You go to therapy to work on things... I don't need a therapist to tell me I'm uncomfortable."

During the Q&A session, an attendee asked Scanlan how she approaches and feels about people with viewpoints that are different from her own. 

Scanlan responded that disagreement is needed. 

“We’re not robots. We can disagree with each other. If you guys are on Twitter at all, you see conservatives fight all the time. That's something the left never does because they’re always unified. We need to fight. We need to agree. And when you have an agreement or disagreement with somebody, you either come to a place where you walk away and feel stronger about your beliefs, or you walk away and your mind is changed. Both of those things are just as powerful, and that’s why we need disagreement.” 


Following up, a woman who openly disagreed with Scanlan asked her a question. 

“My question is about freedom. This group is Young Americans for Freedom, yet, I'm hearing a lot about how this trans woman shouldn't be allowed to participate in the sport that they love, which aligns with the team that matches their gender. I'm hearing that they shouldn't be able to feel safe in a woman's bathroom when it aligns with their gender, and these are all basic freedoms that we have. This person has really spoken truth to power. They identified as a woman. That is their gender. I'm wondering, do you think trans people should have different rights than everyone else, and why?”

Upon asking the question, a man in the audience stated out loud, “Lia has a penis." 

The woman pointed out, “Sex is different from gender.”

Scanlan responded to her question, disputing that she believes transgender people should have different rights. 

“I didn’t say that I think trans people should have different rights. I want to make this clear: I’ve never once advocated for anyone to be banned from sports. We have sex-based categories for a reason. It’s to ensure fairness. It's to get the most people to be competing. Lia swam on the men's team for three years. You could have continued to swim on the men's team for another year. That was his decision. The men's team was very welcoming to him; if he wanted to compete with them, he just chose not to. It's not about them having different rights than the rest of us. We are females, and we deserve to be protected.

I was sexually assaulted as a high school student, and I am very uncomfortable being vulnerable and completely naked next to men. That is my personal experience. So having somebody who's male-bodied in the same space as me is incredibly traumatizing, and I think that if we put men into my locker room, that's infringing on my rights.”

Scanlan went on to say, “Those rules are in place to protect female-bodied people.”


Afterwards, a man said he was sorry for her past experiences with sexual assault and referenced statistics which show that transgender individuals are more likely to experience assault than people who aren’t transgender.

“I'm very sorry about your experience with assault, and I think everyone deserves to live free of that in this world, no matter who you are. I just wanted to express my condolences to you for that. It is a statistic that trans people experience assault of all kinds, including sexual assault, four times as often as people who are not trans, and so my question is, do you think that someone like Lia also deserves a space in swimming where she can feel safe and free of assault as well?”

Scanlan responded to his question. 

“I do think that Lia should be allowed to compete in swimming. No one's being sexually assaulted while they're competing in the pool, so I'm not sure I understand that portion of your question. I believe everyone should compete in sports. I just believe it should be based on sex based categories, male and female. That is to ensure fairness for everyone. I'm not telling you how you can dress or how you can identify. If you want to race in the male category wearing a woman's swimsuit, I highly encourage that if that's how you feel comfortable in your own body.” 


Following the Q&A session, Scanlan left after McCoy asked attendees to applaud her. McCoy offered attendees to apply to join YAF before closing the event.

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