A former champion swimmer who campaigns for women’s sport has told how her faith has grown since she started speaking out against the participation of male athletes in female events, often in the face of intense hostility.
Riley Gaines Barker has been fighting against laws that permit men who identify as female to compete against women. In June, she courageously testified to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled Protecting Pride: Defending the Civil Rights of LGBTQ+ Americans about how female athletes who complained over being forced to compete against transgender athletes were taunted with ‘hate’ labels in a bid to silence them. “That is continually happening. They will call you everything under the sun, whether it’s ‘transphobic, homophobic, racist, white supremacist, domestic terrorists.’ They will throw them all at you and hope to deter you and hope to silence you,” Ms. Barker told lawmakers.
Her activism began when she was forced to compete against 185-centimetre tall transgender swimmer Lia Thomas who excelled at college level in events run by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
The then Riley Gaines was successful enough to be named an NCAA All-American, but witnessed the despair of those who missed out because Thomas was allowed to compete. She told the Senate Committee: “I saw the tears from the ninth and 17th place finishers, who missed out on being named an All-American by one place. I can attest to the extreme discomfort in the locker room, from these 18- to 22-year-old girls, when you turn around, and there’s male eyes watching in that same room. I can attest to the whispers and the grumbles of anger and frustration from these girls, who, just like myself, had worked their entire lives to get to this meet. The NCAA forced this on us. We were not forewarned we would be sharing a locker room. No one asked for our consent and we did not give our consent.”
She revealed that many young women felt traumatised by having to change in the same room as a man, which was a violation of their privacy. She stated that many female athletes were forced to remain quiet about the situation or face losing their scholarships or having their reputations ruined. “Defending women’s rights is not anti-anyone. Believing in biology is not bigoted. And following the science that there are only two sexes and that there are very real and important differences between the two sexes is not ‘hateful’ — it’s fact,” she asserted.
Ms. Barker recently told Pastor Gary Hamrick of Cornerstone Chapel on the outskirts of Washington, D.C: “That is what thrust me into this position of no longer being willing to lie because that’s what they were asking us to do when they’re asking us to smile and happily step aside and allow these men onto our podiums, taking our scholarships and our opportunities and our titles. That was asking us to lie and asking us to not feel uncomfortable by having this man undressing inches away from us where we were undressing.”
She told how she and the other female swimmers waited for someone such as a coach or official to stick up for them and protect them. But that never happened. “When I realised we weren’t seeing that, it slapped me across the face. This realisation of ‘if we as women weren’t willing to stick up for ourselves, how can we expect someone else to stick up for us?'” she explained in front of the Cornerstone congregation.
The former swimmer told Pastor Hamrick: “I have always been spiritual, but this past year, I experienced a spiritual awakening. I have witnessed how God moves through people, how He has His hand on me in this situation, in this fight. “I’ve seen so evidently how His opposition works and moves through people in not the same way. It’s plaguing this country. And I think we can all agree this is a spiritual battle. It’s no longer right versus wrong, good versus bad. This is moral versus evil.”
Throughout her journey and ordeal, the former swimming star has found solace and strength in Romans 8:18: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us. She revealed the verse has become a guiding light for her during the emotional toll of the fight she is engaged in.
As a devout Christian, she believes in the inherent design of men and women by God. Scripture emphasises in Genesis 1:27: So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. She told Pastor Hamrick that this foundational understanding informs her conviction to protect the purity and fairness of women’s sports.
Through her courageous testimony and ongoing activism, Riley Gaines Barker hopes to inspire others to stand firm in their beliefs, even when facing opposition. The Christian Post reports that as she continues to champion the truth and uphold the legacy of women’s rights in sports, she is also fighting to uphold Godly principles upon which the very fabric of creation is built.
She has had to to endure humiliation for her cause. In one college race, she recorded exactly the same time as Lia Thomas, but the transgender swimmer was awarded the trophy while the then Riley Gaines was asked to step aside. “When I asked why, which was a question they were not prepared to be asked, I actually appreciated their honesty. They said it was crucial Thomas have it for picture purposes. I felt betrayed. I felt belittled. I felt reduced to a photo-op. But my feelings didn’t matter. What mattered to the NCAA were the feelings of a biological male,” she testified to the Senate hearing. The incident fuelled her resolve to no longer remain silent and to stand up for the truth.
In addition to her own challenges, Riley Gaines Barker revealed that Thomas’s teammates were coerced into attending mandatory LGBT education meetings, where they were made to feel guilty for being ‘cisgender’ and advised against expressing any objections to the policy, lest they suffer consequences such as the loss of scholarships and competition opportunities. “They told these girls that, ‘If you do speak out and any harm whatsoever comes toward Thomas’ way — whether that’s through social media, whether that’s physical, mental, emotional harm — then you are solely responsible, and you could be responsible for a potential death.'”
The women’s sports advocate is likely to face similar threats and hostility as she continues to be invited to speak across the US. While she was was able to deliver her remarks to an audience at San Francisco State University in April, a mob of LGBT activities refused to let her leave the campus. Ms. Barker claims they assaulted her and barricaded her in a classroom for hours and demanded she pay them a ransom if she wanted to make it home safely. She was eventually freed but missed her flight home. She never received an apology
Her fallback is Romans 8:18. “I noticed just how applicable that verse is in what I’m fighting for now. The suffering, which is, of course, the backlash, the emotional toll. I mean, there’s a lot of suffering in what I do now. But it is so worth it when you understand what’s at stake and when you understand what you’re fighting for, which is, of course, this next generation.”