FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX 56) – This week Sen. Rand Paul released a new campaign ad featuring an endorsement from a University of Kentucky swimmer. The ad is bringing the issue of transgender athletes in women’s sports back into the conversation just weeks out from the election. UK swimmer Riley Gaines has gained prominence over the past year advocating to keep transgendered women from playing in women’s sports.

“For girls across America – that dream is being taken away by men competing in women’s sports,” Gaines said in the ad.

In a conversation with FOX 56 News, Gaines explained why she has shifted towards political activism on the issue.

“After Thomas and I tied at our national championships and the incidents happened with the trophy situation I decided you know it was time for someone to speak out,” Gaines said. She is referring to Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer whose controversial win captured in a now-viral photo from a different competition sparked a national conversation on the subject earlier this year. In the ad, Gaines endorsed Paul and said he will fight for fairness in women’s sports.


“This is the type of thing, the psychological trauma, the abuse really, that leads to the disproportionately high rates of depression and suicide amongst so many members of the LGBTQ community,” Chris Hartman, executive director of Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign, a pro-LGBTQ organization told FOX 56. Hartman argued the ad is a continued attack on the community and 10 years ago it would have been an ad on same-sex marriage.

“The reality is that when you refuse to acknowledge someone’s gender identity, when you refuse to use the correct pronouns and gender terms with someone who is transgender what you are doing is willfully discriminating and it is against the law in employment in the entire United States of America,” Hartman said.

Hartman said transgendered people are among the most marginalized in the population, but Gaines said she also sees an imbalance from her perspective

“I think this affects all female athletes. This is something that is so extremely underreported, especially being in my position now where I’m seeing tons and tons of cases. And of course, it’s only cases of biological men competing in women’s sports and not the other way around,” Gaines said.

“They’re trying to misdirect the public and try to say this is about equal rights. Has nothing to do with equal rights. Men don’t have an equal right to compete in women’s sports. Women have a right to have their own space we’ve always had it that way and I think it is a big mistake to corrupt it,” Paul told FOX 56.

Paul’s opponent, Charles Booker, pushed back on Paul’s support for women’s rights and told FOX 56 in a statement, “Parents across Kentucky are terrified that Rand Paul is the leading advocate for a full and complete ban on abortion, even if their daughter is tragically raped, a victim of incest, or will die from pregnancy.” Both Hartman and Gaines said there is no universal answer on this issue but do agree no one should be denied an athletic opportunity.