Ex-UPenn swimmer testifies before Congress on Lia Thomas experience; opens up about 2016 sexual assault

Scanlan competed alongside Lia Thomas from 2021-2022

Former NCAA Division I swimmer Paula Scanlan, who was a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s team along with trans swimmer Lia Thomas, testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee on Thursday morning where she spoke out about her experience and revealed the impact Thomas’ presence in the locker room had on her as a survivor of sexual assault. 

Scanlan, who now serves as a spokesperson and adviser for the Independent Women’s Forum, testified before lawmakers during a hearing on "gender-affirming care for minors."

Paula Scanlan testifies before congress

Paula Scanlan, former University of Pennsylvania swimmer, testifies during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution and Limited Government hearing on gender-affirming care for children. (Jasper Colt-USA TODAY)

As a member of UPenn’s women’s swimming team, Scanlan suggested that university officials disregarded the concerns of the members on the team and told them that Thomas’ being on it was "non-negotiable." 


"Once the season began, Thomas was leading the country in multiple events, while only placing in the top 500 in those events on the men's team. Thomas later became an NCAA champion in the 500-yard freestyle — the first NCAA champion in our women's team history program. While many of you already know this, what you do not know is the experience of the women on the University of Pennsylvania swim team," Scanlan said during her opening statement. 

"My teammates and I were forced to undress in the presence of Lia, a 6-foot-4 tall biological male, fully intact with male genitalia 18 times per week. Some girls opted to change in bathroom stalls, and others used the family bathroom to avoid this. When we tried to voice our concerns to the athletic department, we were told that Lia’s swimming and being in our locker room was a non-negotiable, and we were offered psychological services to attempt to re-educate us to become comfortable with the idea of undressing in front of a male.

lia thomas riley gaines ncaa swimming championship

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, left, and Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines tied for fifth in the 200-freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta on March 18, 2022. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

"To sum up the university's response, we the women were the problem, not the victims. We were expected to conform, to move over and shut up. Our feelings didn't matter."


Scanlan spoke about an op-ed she penned for the student paper that discussed the scientific differences between biological male and females only to find out hours after its publication, it was retracted without her knowledge. 

"This is representative of a greater issue — the destruction of free speech. Today, any discussion maintaining the sanctity of women's spaces is labeled transphobic, bigoted and hateful. What's bigoted and hateful is discrimination against women and the efforts to erase women and our equal opportunities, dignity and safe spaces," she said.

Lia Thomas enters the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas enters for the 200-freestyle final during the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta on March 18, 2022. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

An emotional Scanlan also revealed that the situation surrounding Thomas’ involvement went beyond fair competition. For her as a survivor of sexual assault, Thomas’ presence in the locker room created a greater issue. 

"This is real. I know women who have lost roster spots and spots on the podium. I know of women with sexual trauma who are adversely impacted by having biological males in their locker room without their consent. I know this because I am one of these women," said Scanlan.


"I was sexually assaulted on June 3rd of 2016. I was only 16 years old. I was able to forgive my attacker but violence against women still exists. Let us not forget the viral #MeToo movement that empowered female victims to speak up. It casts a spotlight on the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and abuse, including in scholarly and educational institutions."

Lia Thomas prepares for race

Lia Thomas prepares to swim the women's 500-yard freestyle final at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Scanlan competed on UPenn’s swim team from 2018-2019 and from 2021-2022. During her final season, ​​Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win a Division I championship in any sport, winning the 500-yard freestyle in 2022.

Thursday’s hearing was held to discuss the "dangers and due process violations of 'gender-affirming care'" and the role of parents in those decisions.