Riley Gaines Brings to Harvard Her Crusade Against Biological Men Competing in Women’s Sports

‘Riley’s Evil = Our Joy,’ reads a sign hung by protesters on the building where Gaines was speaking inside.

Via M.J. Koch/The New York Sun
Riley Gaines at Harvard. Via M.J. Koch/The New York Sun

“Pro-woman” is how an activist and collegiate swimmer, Riley Gaines, describes herself to students at Harvard, where her talk denouncing the participation of transgender women in women’s sports incited both applause and protests from students on campus last night.  

As Ms. Gaines spoke, students held a “Big Trans Party” outside the venue, featuring pro-trans advocacy groups, the Harvard Crimson reported, while Harvard’s police department patrolled the premises. The backlash against Ms. Gaines’s appearance, which was hosted by Harvard’s chapter of a national conservative women’s club, signals how divisive transgender issues have become on elite college campuses. 

“It’s disheartening when you feel less welcome at a university known for its prestige than student-led groups in support of terrorism,” Ms. Gaines tells the Sun. The turmoil surrounding her visit marks the latest controversy at the nation’s oldest university, which has been rocketed by anti-Israel demonstrations since Hamas’s attacks at Gaza earlier this month. 

During her talk, Ms. Gaines criticized several policies surrounding transgender athletes, including the Olympics’ decision to allow them to compete with athletes of the same gender identity. “Men are men, women are women,” she asserted to the crowd of more than a hundred Harvard students and Cambridge locals. “There are only two sexes. You can’t change your sex and each sex is deserving of equal opportunities.” 

Ms. Gaines became outspoken against biological men competing against women in collegiate sports after tying for fifth place in the 200 freestyle final at the NCAA Women’s Championships in 2022 with a Penn swimmer, Lia Thomas. Ms. Thomas, who is a biological male and the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship, was given the only fifth-place trophy for the event. Ms. Gaines subsequently told reporters, “I left there with no trophy.”

Outside the event last night, students voiced support for the transgender movement. “We are so thrilled to host a large group of people to celebrate trans joy, even amidst hateful rhetoric around campus,” a transgender advocacy group on campus that participated in the demonstration, TransHarvard, tells the Sun. Yet the so-called celebration turned against Ms. Gaines: a sign hanging on the building in which she spoke read, “Riley’s Evil = Our Joy.” 

The demonstration also featured remarks from a former Harvard swimmer, Schuyler Bailar, the first openly transgender man to compete in NCAA athletics. “People like her are happening because we’re making progress, right?” he told organizers, as reported by the Crimson. “Because we’re more visible than we ever were before. Because we actually are striving for more than what the box is that they put us in.”

No protesters made it inside the event, though, where rows of seats were lined with purple and pink posters exclaiming, “Real women stand with Riley” and “There are only two sexes.” “She got a lot of applause,” the vice president of the club that hosted Ms. Gaines, Network of Enlightened Women, Alma Conway, tells the Sun. “So many people wanted to get in.” 

Asked by the Sun why the club wanted to invite Ms. Gaines to Harvard, Ms. Conway says, “I think we’re on the side of truth and on the side of logic and reason and common sense, and to deny that two plus two equals four is making me deny the truth and you can’t force me to do that.”

Ms. Conway points to a June Gallup poll showing that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe trans people should not compete on sports teams with athletes of their birth gender. “A majority is on the side that she’s on,” she says. “It’s become politicized, but it shouldn’t necessarily be a political issue.”

During the talk, Ms. Gaines described herself as “pro-woman,” disputing the labels of “anti-trans” or “transphobic.” “I think if we’re labeling pro-woman as anti-trans,” she said, “wouldn’t that inherently mean pro-trans is anti-woman? I’m most certainly pro-woman and I’m not advocating for the exclusion of trans athletes. You just compete where it is fair and where it’s safe.”

Ms. Gaines’s visit was part of her Speak Louder Campus Tour of American universities following the launch of her center at a conservative nonprofit, the Leadership Institute of Virginia. “The left has used all its power to destroy the distinctions between women and men,” the mission statement of the Riley Gaines Center, which seeks to “build a movement to stand up for women’s sports and common-sense American values,” declares.

Ms. Gaines will likely face further backlash as her tour progresses. Her next stop is the University of California Davis in November, but information about her talk was removed from the ticketing website Eventbrite, which stated that “the event violated the company’s ‘community guidelines and terms of service,’” Fox News reported. The organization said it does not allow events that “disparage” or “threaten” people on the basis of their identity. 

Ms. Gaines seems unperturbed by these kinds of setbacks. “I was able to successfully deliver a speech to a maxed out room full of students who seemed hungry to hear truth which, ironically enough, is Harvard’s Latin motto of ‘Veritas,’” she tells the Sun. “There were several hearts and minds changed last night and that makes all the backlash worth it.”

The New York Sun

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