On the March 22 edition of his Spotify podcast, host Joe Rogan went on an anti-trans tirade against University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, including commenting on her genitals and spreading the false claim that the runners-up at the March 17 NCAA swimming competition protested Thomas’ win. Rogan also repeatedly misgendered Adm. Rachel Levine, the highest-ranking openly transgender official in the U.S. government, and said, “It seems kind of crazy when someone, like, really looks like a man and you can't even say that anymore.” The Joe Rogan Experience was the most popular podcast on Spotify in 2021 and 2020.
During his show, Rogan posited that Thomas’ participation in college athletics is potentially “causing more harm to the transgender cause than it is good because you're forcing this into society in a way that's going to make people resentful.” He appeared to have been talking in the context of a widely circulated photo of Thomas standing atop the winner’s podium after placing first in the 500-yard freestyle with the race’s second-, third-, and fourth-place competitors posing together on the third-place podium.
Some media outlets incorrectly interpreted the photo as a “protest.” In reality, the third-place finisher Erica Sullivan explained that the photo was “taken … out of context” and that she was simply “taking a picture with my closest friends from the Olympics” after “the group photo was taken.” Sullivan and fourth-place swimmer Brooke Forde have also publicly supported Thomas’ right to compete.
At one point, Rogan’s guest, comedian Monty Franklin, then commented on Thomas’ genitals, saying, “Did she go the full chop?” Rogan replied, “No. … So there's an issue there, right?”
Rogan has faced widespread backlash for spreading bigotry, medical misinformation, and right-wing lies on his Spotify podcast. But Spotify has determined that its newly published platform rules, which the company claims have been internally in place “for years,” do not prohibit numerous dangerous and unfounded claims spread on The Joe Rogan Experience. For example, Rogan has repeatedly suggested that social acceptance of trans people is a sign of “civilizations collapsing,” claimed that the omicron variant of the coronavirus is “essentially like a cold,” and falsely asserted that mRNA coronavirus vaccines are “really gene therapy.”
Right-wing media outlets and conservative politicians have relentlessly targeted both Levine and Thomas with anti-trans hate campaigns. On March 21, Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Jeannine Pirro launched anti-trans attacks against the two, with Carlson claiming Levine’s gender identity is “outrageous” and meant to “degrade the rest of us.”
(In accordance with the Trans Journalists Association style guide, Media Matters has replaced incorrect references to Levine’s gender in brackets in the transcript below. For example, if a transcript incorrectly refers to someone as “he,” we change that language to say "[she].")