For University of Pennsylvania law student Maya Reddy, the waves of criticism and vitriol heaped on Quakers swimmer Lia Thomas brought back rough memories.
In 2016, Reddy was a queer, South Asian college golf All-American readying to make her mark on the Symetra Tour and take a step toward the LPGA Tour. She was a person who was different in a sporting landscape that prefers sameness.
“I know what it feels like to not feel welcome in your sport,” Reddy said in an interview on The Trans Sporter Room last Wednesday. “To have your sport say in all these different ways, from the microaggressions to the blatant aggressions, that you don’t belong and all I wanted to do was play golf. I didn’t see people that either looked like me or acknowledge the existence of queer people.”
The harsh climate, somewhat similar to the maelstrom surrounding Thomas now, led her to step away from her sport and from a dream. Those experiences also led Reddy, along with a small group of Penn law students, to draft a letter that was co-signed by 14 campus organizations in support of Thomas’ right to compete under NCAA and Ivy League rules last week.
The letter also condemns the demeaning, transphobic treatment Thomas has received from mainly right-wing media sources
The hysteria about transgender inclusion in sports that has been mounting over the past several years centers on a perceived threat that trans athletes pose to sports. Specifically, the rhetoric and coverage surrounding Lia, and athletes like her, makes bad faith assertions that transgender women are inherently cheaters and that if a trans woman athlete wins, they are “dominating” women’s sports and taking away opportunities from fellow female athletes.
The law students centered this issue in the context of larger issues of LGBTQ rights and the number of legal decisions, including 2020’s critical Supreme Court decisions, that have upheld those rights. It also confronted the anti-trans hysteria that has been a constant theme of coverage from sources such as The Daily Mail.
Such hysteria, repeated by a post within the Twitter of the Penn Law Review, put Reddy on alert.
“There was this one person who was in Penn Law Review’s mentions with the hashtag ‘#penncheats’ and this person kept saying ‘this was illegal’ and this is against Title IX and they wanted to see the courts to take this up,” she argued. “The courts have taken this up. This is not illegal. For me at a personal level, I am not going to stand by and see people wily-nily use bad faith references to the law as a way to validate their claims.”
The grassroots effort of support came at the same time that both the university and the Ivy League made statements in support of the student-athlete. For Reddy personally, her stance came from a moment when she was readying to take the next step from NCAA Division III All-American at Claremont McKenna College in California to touring pro.
She wrote about the moment when she became an ambassador for Athlete Ally in 2018.
Every time I went to a golf course I felt unsafe. I remember the first time I felt this so vividly...There was a group of five people, including my swing coach, who I had worked with for over a decade and saw as a second father, a person I trusted with everything. He had noticed me, but turned again towards the group to finish the conversation. As I listened, I heard spiteful jokes about Middle-Eastern and South Asian ethnicities, peppered with homophobic asides. With every joke came a laugh, and with every laugh I tasted a sickly bile rise in my throat as my stomach flipped. They were mocking aspects of my identity, and my coach was laughing along with them.
“Hearing it now makes me feel really sad because I’m seeing that in my mind’s eye,” she recalled somberly as she heard the words. “I still feel really hurt. These instances and these experiences were kind of what drove me out of the sport. I didn’t feel safe in the sport I loved. There was this huge part of me that was edge because of the discrimination I was facing.”
As the Penn swim season, and the controversy and vitriol surround Lia Thomas competing, continues, Reddy says she and others within the law school will continue to speak out.
“We have a responsibility as law students, as folks within the legal profession to say something as an advocate for the trans community especially when these attacks are coming from a legal basis.” she emphasized. “You are not going to come here and say that the law is either condoning the exclusion of trans folks nor are you going to say the law is going to bolster your efforts from exclusion.”
To read the complete letter click here. In addition to the continuing story surrounding Lia Thomas, Maya Reddy talk about her past in golf, her present as a law school graduate to be, a future that may yet see a return to the links, and being Star Wars fan who loved the prequel film. Hear the complete interview in the latest edition of The Trans Sporter Room. Check it out on Megaphone, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple podcasts, and many other platforms for Outsports podcasts as well.