JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A former college athlete who advocates against transgender athletes competing in women’s sports spoke at East Tennessee State University on Thursday, drawing both supporters and protesters.
Riley Gaines, a former collegiate swimmer, said she came out to speak at ETSU to fight for younger female athletes’ rights. She talked about competing against transgender athlete Lia Thomas and how she has been advocating across the country for women to not have to compete against transgender women.
“The unfair competition that we face, the locker room, the silencing we face from our universities, and then the bigger picture of why this matters and what’s ultimately at stake if we don’t have people willing to defend women’s spaces and defend the truth,” Gaines told News Channel 11.
A national organization called “Turning Point USA” has a chapter at ETSU, and it hosted her to speak, as well as meet and talk with other student-athletes.
“I’m done competing, at least at the competitive level. So it’s not about me. It’s about these people, these young athletes,” Gaines said.
Protesters held signs and chanted about equal rights outside of where Gaines spoke. LaVada DelConte, whose granddaughter is transgender, said Gaines shouldn’t have been invited to campus.
“I find it very offensive,” DelConte said. “We are trying to be a very inclusive campus here.”
“These are rights I fought for when I was younger. And to see them being stomped on by a woman like this to me is very horrifying.”
Edmond Jeans Corduroy, Creative Director of the ETSU Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), was also protesting the event.
Corduroy said Gaines mischaracterizes the trans community and bases her campaign on misinformation which the YDSA stands firmly against.
“If you look at the statistics between trans women and athletics and cisgender women in athletics, trans women are not winning the majority,” Corduroy said. “In fact, they lose a majority of the races, the meets, the general athletics that they do.” So, I don’t see that it’s an issue more than just a political issue to gain the right footing, because from my point of view, the right doesn’t have a lot of policy. hey just have a lot of fear mongering and hate speech.”
Others showed up in support of Gaines, including ETSU softball player Cameron Young.
“She’s such an inspiration, and she’s standing up and having so much courage for all of us women out here, defending our sports and our women, and that there should not be males competing in our sports,” Young said.
Gaines said she is able to face the backlash she receives because of her supporters.
“Because I have common sense on my side, we have truth on our side we have logic, reasoning, science on our side,” Gaines said. “And I think the only way people can really dissuade from the argument that I’m presenting is through vitriol or violence or name calling or petty personal attacks.”
Gaines was an All-American swimmer at the University of Kentucky.