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Meet the trans swimmer who made NCAA and LGBT sports history

Harvard swimmer Schuyler Bailar became the first NCAA Division I out transgender swimmer to compete in 2015.

Schuyler Bailer
Schuyler Bailar
Harvard Athletics

All month long, Outsports is revisiting key moments in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer sports history as part of LGBTQ history month.

Today, we’re revisiting the achievement of Schuyler Bailar, a Harvard University swimmer who was the first out transgender swimmer to compete in NCAA history.

Bailar spoke in Naperville, Ill. last month about his transition and acceptance.

“You can be exactly who you are, whatever that means to you. It doesn’t have to be transgender, queer, gay, or something to have to do with the LGBTQ spectrum,” Bailar told those gathered at Metea Valley’s auditorium. “It can be something that differs from what your parents expect from you, or what society at large expects from you. You can be exactly that and also do what you love. Your identity never has to rob you of your own passions.”

Our friend Erik Hall wrote about Bailar in his college sports roundup of Nov. 10, 2015:

Schuyler Bailar walked out of the men’s locker room and onto the pool deck in a single file with his Harvard teammates. Before Friday’s swim meet started, the national anthem played and it gave Bailar some time to think before the meet.

”It was a pretty emotional moment for me,” Bailar said. “I had been at countless national anthems getting ready to race and this was the first one I was really myself in a swim setting, and that’s something I’ve been working towards for a really long time.”

Bailar made history in Friday’s dual meet against Bryant by becoming the first NCAA Division I openly transgender swimmer, according to Harvard.

There were about 10 minutes after the national anthem before Bailar’s first race, when he’d swim the breaststroke in the 200 medley relay. He took his sweat suit off a little before the race and focused on the competition.

”I realized everything is different at that moment,” Bailar said. “I’m wearing a Speedo instead of a woman’s suit. I’m on the men’s team. There are so many things that are different. But at the same time, I’m wearing cap and goggles and about to jump in the pool to swim ... the breaststroke. In that sense, nothing’s changed.”

His 200 medley relay finished fourth as did his 400 freestyle relay. He also swam the 100 butterfly, finishing 12th out of 15 competitors in 56.26 seconds.

Bailar’s best performance came in the 100-yard breaststroke, where his fifth-place finish scored one point for Harvard. His time was 1 minute, 3.11 seconds.

It helped Harvard beat Bryant, 165-120, at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool.

”I didn’t expect myself to be able to beat many people, and scoring obviously means that I beat some people,” said Bailar, whose last meet before Friday was in Feb. 2014. “That was really exciting and rewarding and just surprising — not because I should be any less than anybody else, but I am starting behind most of the guys.”

Bailar said his dad, Gregor Bailar, attended the meet. It helped the meet feel normal, because his dad attended every high school meet. The Bryant team also made Bailar feel comfortable.

”I was curious if people would talk to me or say dumb things or look at me funny or make it obvious that I am different,” Bailar said. “That didn’t happen.”

Harvard’s next meet is Friday and Saturday at Ithaca, N.Y., against Cornell and Dartmouth. But for the first one, Bailar said he felt “stoked with the result.”

”I had a lot of fun,” Bailar said.

Tomorrow — and every day in October — we’ll look back at another moment in LGBTQ sports history.