Riley Gaines, a former Division-I swimmer at the University of Kentucky, will deliver a speech titled “Protecting Women’s Sports” at UB’s Center for Tomorrow this Thursday.
Gaines has recently attracted national attention for sharing her experience competing against Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Since then, Gaines has spoken out against trangender women competing in women’s sports, claiming it creates a disadvantage for cisgender women.
Gaines will speak at an event sponsored by Turning Point USA Buffalo (TPUSA) approximately one month after Michael Knowles, a conservative political pundit, spoke on campus and sparked protests from the Buffalo community.
E-board members of TPUSA's UB chapter declined to comment.
Last Tuesday, Gaines tweeted a picture of posters on UB’s campus which portrayed her as the clown from “It.”
Gaines’ speech at UB coincides with recent legislation being passed about transgender women in sports across the U.S.
The Biden administration recently proposed a “rule” which would ban transgender women from sports on a case-by-case basis, depending on how competitive the team is.
Gaines made national headlines after she spoke at San Francisco State University via TPUSA last Thursday. Students protested her speech, with Gaines claiming that she was “assaulted” by a mob of students. The students claimed they protested “peacefully.”
Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), a club at UB, helped organize a protest for Knowles’ speech last month. The club is expected to organize a protest outside of Gaines’ speech on Thursday.
“It’s clearly meant to make trans students feel unsafe and say, ‘You’re not welcome here,’” Rayna Cooke, a senior biology major, said. “We want to combat that as much as possible because trans students should feel safe and trans students are welcome at UB. UB should be doing more to show that that is the case, to make trans students feel protected.”
Cooke says a group of graduate students are currently working on sending a list of demands to UB President Satish Tripathi, such as requesting more gender neutral bathrooms on campus.
Susan Cahn, a professor emeritus in the History and Global Gender and Sexuality Studies Department, provided their insight into Gaines’ visit. They have studied gender and sexuality in women’s sports history for decades.
“Where I really disagree with Riley Gaines is I think that bans on transgender athletes hurt all women athletes,” she said. “I think what it does is affirm the view that real athletic ability is male.”
They went on to explain that within genders, there’s biological variability. Cahn says by banning transgender women athletes from sports, it exemplifies the idea that being born a woman means “you couldn’t possibly beat a trans woman.”
While there is backlash from students regarding Gaines coming to campus, there is also support and interest in her speech.
“I’m planning on attending the event,” Ryan Kahle, a senior political science and communication major said. “I’m always interested to hear what these people have to say, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with them.”
Kahle thinks that as long as there is evidence to support conclusions that transgender women shouldn’t compete in women’s sports, he would support it. He added that as a political science major, he believes these events help people get more politically engaged.
“It’s when you have someone who’s controversial that it really brings out the spirit in people because obviously there are these issues that they really care about for one way or the other,” Kahle said. “It kind of gets people out there and gets people excited, which, as a political science major, I like to see that, regardless if people are angry about it or excited about it.”
Students and faculty also pondered UB’s involvement and if the university is doing enough to protect transgender students on campus.
UB put out a statement after the backlash against Knowles speaking on campus. Students and faculty felt that the email was not enough and are showing concern for the university’s lack of response to Gaines.
“I felt like the message coming from UB was we will be there to serve trans students who are traumatized by the event,” Cahn said. “But I think as a campus our goal should be [to] not allow people to be traumatized by what’s going on on campus.”
UB says University Police has plans to ensure the safety of the campus community for the speech on Thursday, which was originally planned to be held in the Student Union.
“UB police have been planning accordingly for Thursday’s speaking event, which includes a change in venue to the Center for Tomorrow, security checks upon entrance and a strong police presence both inside and outside the event,” John Della Contrada, a UB spokesperson, said in a statement to The Spectrum. “As always, the focus is on maintaining a safe, secure environment so all parties can peacefully express their views.”
The Student Life Freedom of Assembly Support Team (FAST) will also be in attendance to remind students and faculty of the right to free speech and the “responsibility to abide by public rules of order and maintain a climate of respect,” according to the university.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that TPUSA. That is inaccurate. The Spectrum reached out to e-board members of UB's TPUSA chapter, who declined to comment. We regret this error.
Amy Maslin is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Katie Skoog is a features editor and can be reached at email@example.com