Riley Gaines’ explosive entrance at TPUSA’s women’s conference instantly had the entire audience laughing and cheering, but it was the insightful thoughts she shared behind the scenes prior to taking the stage that leave the most impactful impression.

23-year-old Riley Gaines earned a degree in human health sciences from the University of Kentucky just last year. She was also a 12-time All-American swimmer with 5 SEC titles, who, in her final swim meet, was forced to not only compete against a biological male but also was coerced to share a locker room with him.

During her final meet, Riley tied for 5th place with transgender-identifying swimmer, Lia Thomas. For the photo-op after the meet, Thomas was given the 5th place trophy instead of Riley. Riley was handed the 6th place to hold for photos and was told that her trophy would be sent in the mail.

During our conversation, she relived that experience and explained the moment when she knew that staying silent on the issue wouldn’t be an option for her.

“The only time we became aware that we would be undressing next to a man was when we were undressing next to a man,” she said, with a straight-faced expression, beyond shock, beyond disappointment, and fully determined to tell this story no matter how uncomfortable it may feel for anyone listening. “To put this into perspective, because we had to see it I think others should have to hear about it. A 6’4 22-year-old man disrobing, undressing fully intact with a fully exposed male genitalia, in areas where we were undressing — it felt like betrayal, it felt like belittlement.”

“I think the best way to describe that experience is traumatic for a lot of girls.” Riley said that the NCAA made it clear that the female athletes’ “privacy didn’t matter” and their “safety in that space didn’t matter,” as long as the organization was successful in “appeasing this one man.”

“I think what it really boiled down to was that they were asking us to lie, and once I, I always realized that I knew it was wrong, I knew it was unfair and I knew it that the locker-room was wrong I knew the competition was wrong,” Riley explained. “But it slapped me across the face when I was directly impacted by it. I saw it for what it was it was all photo-ops it was all this big orchestrated lie which is not beneficial to anyone when we’re lying . . . It’s not beneficial to the trans-identifying individual. It’s harmful.”

She said that her teammates had a similar intuitive feeling about the situation but were often too fearful to speak up. “They’re under this notion that if you speak up you won’t get a job you won’t get into grad school,” she said. Riley illustrated that this is simply, “not true.”

“I know those fears are valid, they’re real there is some validity to fearing that,” she continued. “But what’s scarier is not taking this stance, think about the next generation, so their fears are rational, but at the same time, it’s complicity.”

When she first learned that she would be competing against Thomas, Riley said that she “had the opportunity to not race,” but at the time, she didn’t realize that it would come down to that decision. “It was my last race ever, my last swim meet, and I didn’t think it was fair to ask us to give that up. But now, as [the trans-debate] [has] continued to progress I do think that is what it’s going to take.”

Riley Gaines has taken her distressing experience and created a platform that reaches millions of people every day. She is now acting as an Advisor for Independent Women’s Voice and has attended several speaking events around the country such as the Young Women’s Leadership Summit, where she shared her story.

According to Riley, several professional athletes contacted her personally to express their support but would refuse to speak publicly on the matter. She expressed her initial feeling of empathy for these individuals who shared her views but have been apprehensive to condemn the NCAA and other athletic organizations for their policies regarding transgender-identifying athletes. “They can’t lose their job, their title, whatever that might be, because they have a family to feed. I could understand,” she said. “But now, as I see more and more girls— women, getting hurt, getting exploited in the locker room, losing out on opportunities— I don’t have empathy for that anymore.”

During the interview, Riley said that shockingly, the University of Kentucky, and more specifically her Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart, was “an anomaly” throughout the entire situation. Riley began publicly criticizing the NCAA’s decision to allow a male to compete against female collegiate athletes before she graduated from the school. She said that her athletic director told her that he was “behind her one hundred percent.”

“I actually just found this out in the last few weeks, [Mitch Barnhart] called every athletic director in the FCC and said, ‘You better get behind my athlete.’ No other school is taking that approach, so I think it’s such a blessing that I ended up at the University of Kentucky, and to have that support. I think if I didn’t have it, it wouldn’t change a lot in terms of me speaking out, but to have it makes it a lot easier.”

Several athletic organizations have implemented rules pertaining to transgender-identifying athletes, with some taking bolder stances than others. USA Powerlifting, the single organization that attempted to ban athletes from competing in the category which does not match their biological sex outright, recently lost a lawsuit and is now required by a court order to allow transgender athletes to compete in whichever category they choose.

Riley explained the policies adopted by the international governing body of swimming, the World Athletic Association, FIFA, and NWSL, stating, “If you haven’t transitioned by the age of 12, you can’t— or, really, if you’ve gone through male puberty you can’t compete with the women.” She added, “I think that any rule that suggests individuals— children, can transition by the age of 12 is— there needs to be some revision.”

She said that the rule is “by no means” “satisfactory or ethical.”

Riley Gaines: ‘We Have a God Who Created Man and Woman, and Our God Doesn’t Make Mistakes’

Riley explained that the most difficult response she received when speaking out was the hateful rhetoric about her faith. She still receives messages and comments online claiming that the God of Christianity would be accepting and affirming towards LGBTQ+ identities.

“Of course, we have a God of love,” Riley said. “But we also have a God who hates sin. And we have a God who created man and woman, and our God doesn’t make mistakes.” She clearly expressed that she believes in biblical truth, which defines morality, objective reality, and what love is.

This is why she feels so adamantly about preserving female-only sports and spaces, refraining from using preferred pronouns, and opting to speak truthfully, rather than say what is societally considered “nice.” Kindness has been conflated with inclusion and acceptance of distinctly anti-American and anti-Christian values.

The transgender debate emerged at the forefront of national politics because it involves every aspect of society. From freedom of speech to women’s rights and privacy, fairness in athletics, religious freedom, the protection of children, and even the definition of what it means to be a woman — the concept that gender can be manipulated and changed has upended society.

So what exactly can be done?

‘Be Bold,’ the Support is ‘a Thousand to One’

Several states currently have laws protecting fairness in women’s sports, and others have implemented laws protecting children from mutilation and sterilization in the form of “gender-affirming” care. That being said, Riley still insists that “more female athletes with influential platforms [need] to take a stand.”

She explained that the athletic organizations, similar to “Target and Bud Light” will “follow the money.”

“If they’re not making money, they’ll quickly revise their guidelines,” she said. The best way to ensure these organizations lose a profit is if athletes refuse to compete until rules are reconsidered.

“I know we’re talking about women, but men could boycott, men could send a message,”Riley suggested. “We need men again to fulfill their biblical role of protecting and providing. We need men to take a stance here, silence is complicity.”

Before appearing on stage to deliver her encouraging message to attendees, she explained that young women have the capability to shift the culture through communication.

“Don’t shy away from the conversation, what I see a lot of people do is, of course, they feel strongly about this, but when it’s brought up in a public setting, they feel like they have to kind of walk on eggshells,” she said. “It is not controversial to say women deserve respect, and it is not controversial to say that there are two sexes and that you can’t change your sex. Its biological reality, its objective truth. Women deserve privacy, we deserve safety, we deserve equal opportunity.”

“I wish more people realized,” she began, “you take arrows when taking this stance, that’s inevitable, but the arrows you take are personal attacks such as labels and name callings — it’s not dissuading from your argument. But the support, it’s a thousand to one.”

“Be bold, be empowered, it’s liberating to say the truth . . . Thats my message to these girls: speak the truth and be firm in it. Be unwavering.”

This piece first appeared at TPUSA.

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