During the January 18 edition of Fox News’ America Reports, Women’s Sports Policy Working Group member Donna De Varona misgendered two college swimmers and also deadnamed one of them.
Deadnaming and misgendering are forms of harassment that involve using a trans person’s prior name against their wishes or referring to them as the incorrect gender. Misidentifying trans people goes against best-practice journalistic standards.
De Varona is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee board of directors, and past president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. She is also a member of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, which claims to “affirm the legal permissibility of separate girls’ and women’s competitive sport teams while including all trans girls and trans women under the girls’ and women’s sports umbrella." Despite a mission statement that claims to support a “middle way” and says that “we reject both the effort to exclude trans girls and trans women from girls’ and women’s sport,” an op-ed written by several of the group’s members was cited in Arkansas’ trans athlete ban legislation, which passed in 2021. LGBTQ advocates have criticized the group as “a whole other way to target trans youth.”
On Fox, De Varona misidentified Lia Thomas and Iszac Henig, National Collegiate Athletic Association swimmers who compete for the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University, respectively. Thomas is a trans woman and Henig is a trans man. Both athletes compete on their college’s women’s swim team under NCAA rules governing the participation of trans athletes (Henig has put off hormone replacement therapy for the time being).
Right-wing media have subjected Thomas to an anti-trans hate campaign since she broke several records during a swim meet in December. From December 3 through January 12, Fox News aired 32 segments on Thomas’ swim career. Throughout Fox’s coverage of the story, hosts and guests spewed dehumanizing rhetoric about Thomas and went so far as to assert that “this is like everyone has taken a crazy pill and no one wants to admit that this is wrong.”
Despite De Varona’s hollow claim that “we have to look at science-based research and not promote policies that wind up demonizing somebody like Lia or traumatizing the women that were on her team,” De Varona and Fox News host John Roberts misidentified both Henig and Thomas several times during the January 18 segment.
(In accordance with the Trans Journalists Association style guide, Media Matters has replaced incorrect references to Thomas’ and Henig’s genders in brackets in the transcript below. For example, if a transcript incorrectly refers to someone as a “woman” we change that language to say "[man].")