OXON HILL, Md.—Swimmer Riley Gaines wants to know, “Where are the feminists” in the fight to protect women’s sports?

“I think it’s extremely ironic that the people advocating for this are the same party, the same people who were once advocating for the empowerment of women,” Gaines said. 

Gaines, a 12-time All-American and three-time Southeastern Conference champion, gained national attention last year after she tied with male swimmer Lia Thomas in the 200 freestyle at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championships. 

Since having to swim against Thomas, Gaines has continued to share her story and advocate for the protection of women’s sports as a spokeswoman for Independent Women’s Forum. But Gaines says she is weary of being one of the few collegiate and professional female athletes proclaiming that men should not be allowed to compete with women and girls. 

“Where are the people who once believed that women, real women in all of their uniqueness, could conquer the world and deserved respect and deserved equal opportunities?,” Gaines asked during an interview with The Daily Signal at the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington, D.C., Saturday. 

When it comes to sports, Gaines says she knows where some of the “feminists” are.

“Where’s Billie Jean King, who’s a trailblazer? She’s fighting for trans inclusion. Where’s Megan Rapinoe, who fought relentlessly for equal pay and equal resources and equal access for women’s sports? Oh, she’s fighting for trans inclusion,” Gaines said, adding that it is “worth mentioning that neither one of these women have daughters, and both of these women are done with their careers, so they have nothing to lose. They would rather virtue-signal than do what’s right and what’s moral and what’s fair.”

King, now 79, was a prominent female tennis player, winning 39 major titles during her career. In the 1960s and early 1970s, King advocated for the passage of Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prevents discrimination on the basis of sex within public education. King even “took to Capitol Hill to testify on behalf of Title IX and to speak to its need in order for girls and women to advance in their sport,” according to King’s website

In 2021, King spoke out in support of a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference rule that allows men who identify as women to compete on women’s sports teams. 

“I’m proud to support all transgender athletes who simply want the access and opportunity to compete in the sport they love,” King said in a statement. “The global athletic community grows stronger when we welcome and champion all athletes – including LGBTQI+ athletes.”

In January, King attended the Australian Open in Melbourne and was seen waving an LGBTQ+ Pride flag. 

King at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Jan. 27, 2023. (Photo: James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Female soccer player Rapinoe, 37, plays on the United States women’s national soccer team and the OL Reign, a professional women’s soccer team based in Seattle. Rapinoe, a two-time Women’s Wold Cup winner, has long been a vocal advocate for equal pay, arguing that professional female soccer players should be paid the same as men. Rapino’s advocacy paid off last year when U.S. soccer agreed in a settlement after a legal battle to pay female players at an equal rate to the men. 

While Rapinoe was a leading voice for equal pay in women’s soccer, she is also a vocal supporter of allowing males who identify as female to compete in women’s sports.

“Show me the evidence that trans women are taking everyone’s scholarships, are dominating in every sport, are winning every title. I’m sorry, it’s just not happening,” Rapinoe told Time when asked about her view on “transgender inclusion in sports” during an interview last year. “So we need to start from inclusion, period,” the soccer player added. 

When Gaines tied with Thomas at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championships, she says she was told the trophy would be given to Thomas. When Gaines questioned the decision, she remembers the NCAA official telling her, “Well, for photo purposes, Lia has to have it. You can pose with this one, but you go home empty-handed. Thomas takes the trophy.”

In that moment, “it hit me across the head… this is not progress, this is not progressive,” Gaines said. “We are not moving forward. We are moving 50 years back in time to before Title IX, when women didn’t have equal opportunities in sports, by allowing men to infiltrate into our sports, into our locker rooms.” 

The Biden administration has proposed changing the definition of the word “sex” in Title IX to include gender identity and sexual orientation.

Under that proposed change, men who identify as women would be permitted to use women’s restrooms, locker rooms, and participate on women’s sports teams. The proposed rule change remains under review.

“We [are] taking those opportunities away from women in the same lifetime as some of these trailblazers for women’s sports,” Gaines said. “In their same lifetime, they saw the benefits of Title IX and now they’re seeing that being taken away.” 

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