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Yale trans swimmer wants to see more inclusion in sports

February 9, 2022 GMT

Iszac Henig didn’t know Lia Thomas when he reached out to her in October.

Thomas had been making headlines as a transgender woman swimming for Penn. Henig just wanted to let her know she had the support of another Ivy League swimmer who had some idea of what she was going through.

Henig also is transgender, swimming for Yale’s women’s team while transitioning to male. He competes in some of the same events as Thomas, who is transitioning to female.

“It was a quick message to introduce myself and show support and that was really it,” Henig said. “We met for the first time at the Yale-Penn-Dartmouth meet in January which was also just a quick hello. She’s an incredible athlete, I have a ton of respect for her, I think we’re lucky to have her in the league.”

Henig and Thomas will compete against each other again next week in the Ivy League championships. Henig, who still swims on the women’s team and hasn’t begun hormone treatments yet, won their first meeting last month in the 100-meter freestyle. Thomas finished sixth.

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That led to a published accusation that the two had colluded before the race, which Henig denied. He said winning or losing is not what should determine whether he or Thomas are allowed to compete.

Henig said he’s concerned about a new NCAA policy that allows each sport to set its own rules regarding transgender athletes. He would like to see the organization put in more safeguards and guarantee access to sports.

USA Swimming recently revised its policy to create two separate categories of swimmers, elite and non-elite. Trans women will only be allowed to compete in elite events if it is determined by a panel that they meet certain scientific criteria, including specific testosterone levels.

“Trans-inclusive sports policies already exist and already work,” Henig said. “At every level, from elementary to collegiate, trans athletes have been competing for years – and the extremely negative predictions about what will happen to sports have already been shown to be false. In every sport, at every level, there is a wide range of athletic abilities on display. Trans athletes are no different and don’t change this.”

Henig came out to his teammates as transgender in a video last year, while taking a year off from Yale during the pandemic.

“For me, transitioning was less of a decision and more like a necessary, lifesaving shift towards increasing authenticity in the way I live my life,” he said. “I was initially concerned about swimming and how my team would react, but they’ve shown me nothing but support and love.”

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Yale coach Jim Henry said Henig also has his support and the support of the administration.

“There isn’t a member of either the men’s or women’s team that doesn’t respect the work, commitment and person that Iszac Henig is,” he said. “His character, loyalty and genuine connection to his teammates is something special.”

Henig plans to continue swimming for Yale until he graduates next year and isn’t sure if competitive swimming will continue after that. He said he does aspire to serve as a role model for young trans people.

“If there’s even just one young person out there that is looking for encouragement to be their best self and seeing my story helps push them in that direction, that would be enough for me,” he said.