The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Former UPenn swimmer Paula Scanlan lectures at UI

Paula Scanlan, former teammate of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, talked about her experience sharing a locker room and being on the same team as Thomas.
Jordan Barry/The Daily Iowan
Paula Scanlan, former teammate of transgender athlete Lia Thomas, speaks during a Young American’s for Freedom sponsored event at Iowa Memorial Union’s Black Box theatre on Monday, March 25, 2024.

Former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Paula Scanlan gave a lecture and Q&A about her advocacy for women’s sports in the Iowa Memorial Union’s Black Box Theatre in Iowa City Monday night. She highlighted her experience sharing a locker room and competing alongside former UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas, who is the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA Division I National Championship. 

Invited to campus by Iowa Young American’s for Freedom, a conservative campus student organization, Scanlan’s visit comes after more than a dozen college athletes filed a lawsuit against the NCAA on March 14, alleging the organization violated Title IX by allowing Thomas to compete in the 2022 national championships. 

Learn more:

Just outside the IMU, on North Madison Street, roughly 20 protesters chanted, waved LGBTQ+ flags, and held up signs advocating for transgender rights. Inside, Scanlan talked about her experience swimming for UPenn with Thomas.

Scanlan said she was uncomfortable changing in the same locker room as a “biological male with fully intact genitalia” because of the complex nature of putting on swimsuits.

She said many of her teammates expressed discontent with Thomas being allowed to change in the same locker room as them. One teammate, who had the locker next to Thomas, she said, was so uncomfortable that she changed in a single-stall restroom for the entire season. 

“Every single day for practice, she would tiptoe and walk out and change by herself in that stall and then they come back in because she was so uncomfortable,” Scanlan said. “The idea of undressing next to somebody who had been on the men’s team for three years … I watched this happen throughout the season. There were girls who were doing everything they could to avoid undressing with men.” 

Former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines has also spoken out about Thomas, but no other UPenn swimmers have publicly spoken about their experience. However, 16 teammates wrote an anonymous letter to University of Pennsylvania officials in 2022, asking them not to take legal action against NCAA policy updates that would have prevented Thomas from competing, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian

Going against Title IX and NCAA guidance, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law barring transgender girls and women from competing on teams matching their gender in 2022.

The bill bars any student who is not designated as female on their birth certificate from participating in girls’ and women’s sports teams at high school and collegiate levels. 

Iowa Young Americans for Freedom previously brought speakers to campus, such as conservative commentator Matt Walsh, who directed the documentary “What is a Woman,” in which Scanlan starred. The group has also invited Chloe Cole, a person who has detransitioned and regularly speaks against gender-affirming care for minors. 

Scanlan and Cole both testified in July 2023 in front of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee during a hearing titled “the dangers and due process violations of ‘gender-affirming care’ for children.” 

Scanlan: “Men and women have biological differences” 

Scanlan’s lecture coincided with the start of the Iowa women’s basketball win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena against West Virginia Tech on Monday night. 

She addressed the legacy and fame that Iowa star Caitlin Clark has brought to women’s sports. 

“She would not be the Caitlin Clark she is today if she had to compete against men,” Scanlan said. 

Scanlan focused on what she called “physical differences” between men and women, referring to biological advantages she says men have over women. She also criticized the NCAA’s policies that allow transgender men and women to compete on the team of their transitioned gender. 

Until 2022, NCAA policies required all student-athletes who transitioned while playing a sport to undergo one year of hormone replacement therapy to be eligible to compete. The NCAA altered its policies in 2022 to give individual sports’ governing boards the authority to decide how to manage transgender participation in college athletics.

Scanlan said the NCAA policy recognized there are differences between men and women when it comes to hormones, but not other innate differences like height, hip size, and other biological differences. 

“All of these things do not make men better people than women, but they make us physically different,” Scanlan said. “We are talking about the destruction of girls’ confidence, we’re talking about the destruction of reality. We’re seeing girls across the country who are discouraged from sports.” 

College athletes file suit against the NCAA for letting Lia Thomas compete

Filed in the U.S. District Court of Atlanta — the state in which the NCAA Women’s Swimming Championships were held in 2022 — the lawsuit discusses Gaines’ and other athlete’s feelings when they discovered they would be sharing a locker room with Thomas. 

The lawsuit documents several races in which the plaintiffs swam against Thomas, including the final for the 200-yard race in which Thomas and Gaines tied for fifth place, according to the Associated Press. Thomas swam for UPenn before and after her transition, moving from the men’s to the women’s team. 

The lawsuit attempts to stop the NCAA from exercising its transgender eligibility policies at upcoming events held in Georgia. 

Title IX, signed into law in 1972, prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. 

The lawsuit states the plaintiffs bring the case forward “to secure for future generations of women the promise of Title IX that is being denied them and other college women.”

“College sports are the premier stage for women’s sports in America, and while the NCAA does not comment on pending litigation, the Association and its members will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women’s sports, and ensure fair competition in all NCAA championships,” the NCAA said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Protesters attend Scanlan Q&A 

Several protesters attended the lecture to listen to Scanlan and ask her questions. 

Protesters laughed at Scanlan’s statements, corrected her when she used the incorrect pronouns for Thomas, and peppered her with questions throughout the Q&A. 

One audience member stepped up to the mic to encourage Scanlan to refer to Thomas and others by the name she chooses, saying that in order to have a discussion on any topic, it must start with a point of mutual respect.

Another protester asked Scanlan how she expected to have a conversation with people who disagree with her if she won’t acknowledge that transgender people are humans or say that “trans women are women.” 

“I’ll give you this,” Scanlan responded. “I believe that some trans women believe that they’re women, but that doesn’t actually make it true.” 

Jasmyn Jordan, the chair of Iowa Young Americans for Freedom said after the lecture that she was appreciative that the protesters participated in an active dialogue with Scanlan. 

“Something that I’ve really liked is having more protesters come in and sit in on our events and then also getting to engage more in Q&A,” Jordan said. “So it’s really cool to hear them being a part of the discussions instead of just shutting us out, censoring us, or just not wanting to hear it whatsoever.” 

Protesters: “Love, not hate, make our university great” 

“We’re here, we’re queer, we won’t disappear,” chanted roughly 20 protesters outside of the IMU, even as their signs dripped ink from the rain. 

The protesters held various LGBTQ+ flags and signs with messages of support for trans people.

In the rain, the protesters chanted outside of the IMU, holding various LGBTQ+ flags, and signs with messages of support for trans rights, such as “trans women are real women,” and “protect trans students.” 

Leo Bert, a UI third-year student, organized the protest through posters and social media posts. This was Bert’s first time organizing a protest, but he said he felt compelled to do so because he was tired of YAF organizing speakers such as Scanlan. 

“I was told when I first came here that this is a really accepting place to go to school, and that this is a great place for LGBTQ+ people, and it hasn’t been since I got here,” Bert said. “There were already things to protest when I first started going to school, so I just wish that the university would stop telling trans people that they are safe here and then allowing hate speech.”

UI second-year students Ciara Egan and Bianca Sanchez said they protested in support of their transgender friends. 

“We’re trying to be the voice for people who can’t be here,” Sanchez said. 

Egan said she and Sanchez were at the protest for people who were maybe too scared or not in a place where they were able to participate. Egan expressed disappointment with the university for giving a platform to a “hateful speaker.” 

“The heart of an athlete is so strong,” Egan said. “The drive and the passion and the motivation is just one of the strongest things out there, right? And if we don’t give them a space to be — where they have grown up to feel comfortable in — then we’re just taking away such a passion for them.”

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Liam Halawith
Liam Halawith, Politics Editor
Liam Halawith is a third-year student at the University of Iowa studying Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Public Policy. Before his role as Politics Editor Liam was a politics reporter for the DI. Outside of the DI Liam has interned at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Southeast Iowa Union. This is his second year working for the DI.
Roxy Ekberg
Roxy Ekberg, Politics Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.