Twelve-time All-American swimmer Riley Gaines is scheduled to make a presentation at Harvard this week, “to encourage college students to speak-up for our fundamental right to free speech, for truth and for women.”
A student group dubbed TransHarvard, however, is looking to “challenge the anti-trans athlete discussions being brought to campus.”
Gaines, an advocate for women’s rights, particularly for female athletes, rose to national fame when the former University of Kentucky swimmer tied for fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle at the 2022 NCAA Championships with Lia Thomas, who became the first openly transgender athlete to win a Division I national championship.
Gaines is bringing her Speak Louder Campus Tour to Harvard on Thursday at 7 p.m., a talk that “focuses on encouraging the next generation to fight for our fundamental rights and for fairness,” according to a release promoting the event.
“Women have been stripped of opportunities to fairly compete in sports; denied scholarships; put in physical danger; and exposed to humiliation in locker rooms,” the release states. “Worse, people who oppose this movement have been silenced … these injustices will only accelerate if we don’t speak up now.”
The event, advertised in Harvard’s weekly update last week, has received blowback from some groups on campus, particularly TransHarvard, an organization that provides resources to trans students.
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TransHarvard, on social media and in a flier, is promoting a “big trans party” that it will hold when Gaines is due on campus. The group is calling on community members to come to the “pizza dinner, speeches from brilliant trans+ leaders and allies, sign-making and education outside Boylston Hall,” where Gaines will be speaking to the public.
“Let’s show this transphobe that we are here, we belong, and that she can’t silence us or any other queer people,” the group stated on a flier. “Hate has no home here. <3”
On Monday, Gaines posted a screenshot of an email highlighting the “trans party.”
“If she’s claiming pro-woman means anti-trans, wouldn’t pro-trans inherently mean anti-woman?,” she wrote. “See ya soon, Harvard!
This comes as the Cambridge campus has become more divided than in recent memory amid the Israel-Hamas war, as pro-Palestine student groups continue to rally against Israel.
Gaines’ visit to Harvard will be her ninth so far on her fall campus tour, organized and funded by the Leadership Institute, where she launched a center in August “to fight the push to erase women and destroy women’s sports.”
The speaking tour sparked controversy earlier this month when Gaines was slated to visit Penn State but the talk never happened. University officials claimed the event was not scheduled properly, while her representatives called it an excuse the school used “as cover for preventing the event out of political concerns,” according to Penn Live.