Former college championship swimmer Riley Gaines challenged Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Wednesday after he accused Republicans of promoting “hateful rhetoric” by questioning the rights of transgender youth.
Gaines was on Capitol Hill as a witness for the Senate’s hearing on LGBTQ civil rights, where Durbin said lawmakers need to be careful when talking about this issue.
“At this point, I’d like to remind our colleagues, our children are listening, and they are in danger,” Durbin said. “In fact, today, transgender youth are among the most at risk of homelessness, depression and death by suicide. So, when these young people who are already struggling hear politicians amplify hateful rhetoric that denies their very existence, what message does it send?”
Later in the hearing, Gaines pushed back and told Durbin he needs to think about biological women and girls who she said are at a disadvantage competing against trans people.
“Sen. Durbin, in your opening statement, you had mentioned this rhetoric,” she said. “You had mentioned that, what message does it send to trans individuals? And my comeback to that is, what message does this send to women, to young girls, who are denied of these opportunities?”
“So easily, their rights to privacy and safety thrown out of the window to protect a small population, protect one group as long as they’re happy,” she said. “What about us? That is the overall general consensus of how we all felt in that locker room.”
Rather than answering directly, Durbin argued that there was “no evidence” transgender women perform better than those born that way.
“Since reference was made to my earlier statement, I would just like to add something for the record: There is no evidence that transgender athletes are an issue in certain levels of sports. No transgender female athlete has ever won an Olympic medal in women’s sports, though the International Olympic Committee has allowed transgender athletes to compete since 2004,” Durbin said.
“But one non-binary athlete who was assigned female at birth won a medal in women’s soccer in 2021,” he added.
Gaines was on Capitol Hill as a witness for the Senate’s hearing on LGBTQ civil rights, where she pushed back on allowing transgender students to participate in the school sport of their chosen gender. Gaines has become an activist on behalf of biological female athletes after graduating from the University of Kentucky, where she competed against trans swimmer Lia Thomas in championship-level events.