Last month, anti-transgender activist Riley Gaines spoke at Harvard University on behalf of the Harvard’s Network of Enlightened Women.
Gaines has become an outspoken critic of transgender athletes competing against athletes of their chosen gender after having raced against Lia K. Thomas, the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming event.
“Men are men, women are women. There are only two sexes. You can’t change your sex and each sex is deserving of equal opportunities,” Gaines said during her appearance.
The Harvard Crimson Editorial Board offered up a scathing response to Gaines’s appearance and rhetoric.
“By misgendering and mocking trans athletes for the entertainment of the crowd, as well as belittling the charge of transphobia as a “term of endearment,” Gaines displayed a deplorable disrespect for the transgender community that we, as an Editorial Board, must explicitly condemn,” wrote the Board. “…the value of a free market of ideas does not amount to a get-out-of-jail-free card for hateful rhetoric, nor does it preclude the organizations platforming said rhetoric from criticism. Fruitful discourse, especially on sensitive issues, is contingent upon both parties recognizing the dignity and legitimacy of their counterpart.
Gaines’s comments are particularly pernicious because they embody how a myopic focus on trans athletes has been used in some conservative circles to attack the rights — indeed, the very existence — of trans individuals more broadly. The malicious conflation between trans women’s participation in sports and trans identity in general, which falsely frames the latter as an “issue” up for debate, only serves to advance a hateful agenda writ large.”
During Gaines’ appearance, protestors organized a “Big Trans Party” nearby. Schuyler M. Bailar, a former Harvard swimmer and the first openly transgender man to compete in NCAA Division I athletics, also gave a speech.
“People like her are happening because we’re making progress, right? Because we’re more visible than we ever were before. Because we actually are striving for more than what the box is that they put us in,” he said.