A Missouri Senate Candidate Is Attacking a Trans Swimmer in Pennsylvania

The right-wing obsession with college swimmer Lia Thomas has moved from cable news to the campaign trail.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, June 13, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, June 13, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A congresswoman running for U.S. Senate released an ad this week attacking University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, in a transparent attempt to capitalize on the growing conservative fixation on Thomas and other transgender girls and women in sports.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a six-term congresswoman from Missouri, released a 30-second spot Sunday showing pictures of Thomas before and after her transition, and comparing her swimming records. 


“Some people are afraid to talk about it. Not me,” Hartzler says in the ad, of the college swimmer, who has received borderline-obsessive coverage from Fox News and other conservative media. “I won't look away while woke liberals destroy women's sports.”

“Women’s sports are for women, not men pretending to be women,” Hartzler adds. 

Thomas, 22, swam on the Penn men’s swimming team for three years before transitioning in 2020. She was an accomplished swimmer before transitioning, and in her senior season she has posted the best times in the country in both the 200 meter and 500 meter freestyle events. 

But Republicans across the country have also used Thomas’ performance as a pretext to roll back trans rights. South Dakota recently passed a law, championed and signed by Gov. Kristi Noem, that bans transgender girls from competing against other girls in high school sports, making it one of 10 states that have done so. Three of those states also ban transgender boys from competing against other boys, according to Sports Illustrated


And the South Dakota House of Representatives attempted to move a “bathroom bill” that would have segregated school bathrooms by sex assigned at birth. That bill died in Senate committee last week

USA Swimming, the sport’s governing body, announced hormone restrictions earlier this month requiring transgender women swimmers to have low hormone levels for at least three years, as well as providing “evidence that the prior physical development of the athlete as a male” does not give trans women athletes a “competitive advantage” over cisgender women. 

But the NCAA, the governing body for college sports, said those rules would not be adopted this year, paving the way for Thomas to compete at the college championships in March.  

Hartzler, who has long broadly opposed LGBTQ rights, is running in a crowded GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt. Her opponents include disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, U.S. Rep. Billy Long and right-wing gun activist Mark McCloskey

Missouri’s other U.S. senator, Josh Hawley, endorsed Hartzler Saturday, saying the six-term congresswoman was “someone who understands the moment that we’re in, who understands the stakes that we’re facing, and who is willing to stand up and be a strong voice of the people of Missouri.”

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.