Remarks: Tulsi Gabbard

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of Tulsi Gabbard’s remarks upon receiving the Resilience Award, delivered at the 2022 Annual Awards Gala.

Riley Gaines: Hello everyone. I’m so glad to be here with you tonight. What a crazy year it has been. Like that said, my name is Riley Gaines. I just recently graduated from the University of Kentucky where I was on the swim team all four years. I was able to finish my career as a five-time SEC champion, and SEC recordholder in the 200-yard butterfly, which explains like the massive shoulders, a 12-time All-American, and a two-time Olympic trial qualifier. But all of that to say that being successful at such an elite level is far from easy and [is] a lifelong commitment. It’s impossible to put into words the innumerable hours of hard work and the amount of sacrifices that go into competing at the highest level. This past year, I was a senior in college, and I was forced to compete against the swimmer from University of Pennsylvania Lia Thomas, which I’m sure a lot of you have heard of now. At our NCAA Championships, which is the pinnacle meet for all of female collegiate athletes, we actually raced the 200-yard freestyle and went the exact same time down to the hundredth, which is pretty rare to do in swimming. So, upon tying, the NCAA official looked at me and said, “Great race. You know, we don’t account for ties. So, we’re going to give Lia the trophy. Yours will come in the mail.” And so, I question him, and I say, “Okay, I understand, you know, there’s only one trophy. But can I ask you why you’re adamant on giving this trophy to Lia?” And he looks at me and says, “Oh, well, we’re just doing this in chronological order.” So, at this point I realize what’s happening. And I say, “Okay, well, can you inform me what you’re being chronological about?” And he says, “For photo purposes, Thomas has to hold the trophy.” And it was at this point that I was done waiting for someone else to speak out, because up until this point truly I thought surely a coach, surely someone – thank you – surely someone within the NCAA, someone with political power would stand up for us as young females and say something, but that’s not what we were seeing. And so, I took it upon myself. Carrie mentioned in the introduction how women are told to comply and basically stay silent, so we don’t step on any toes or ruffle any feathers, and she’s exactly right. Universities are intimidating, they’re threatening, they’re emotionally blackmailing these young girls into being too afraid to use their powerful voices. I mean, can you believe that, as a society, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re threatening girls to speak out who feel uncomfortable seeing a man in their locker room? The Ivy League actually sent an email to their swimmers saying that if they do, in fact, feel uncomfortable seeing male genitalia, then they should seek counseling, and they were actually referred to the LGBTQ center to become more educated. I actually have a screenshot of this email. It’s insane. But anyways, like I said, I can’t fathom how we’ve gotten to this point where we’re letting a biological man swimmer who swam three years on the men’s team just switch over to the women’s team, enabling him to of course change with females and win national titles, becoming the fastest female in the country when just a year earlier wasn’t even in the top 500 as a male. I could go on and on and on about this, but surely the only word that sums it up is insanity.

But now I have a new fight. I’m fighting to make sure girls and women in sports are given equal and fair opportunities to compete while also ensuring that they will never have to worry about their privacy, dignity, or safety when it comes to sharing a space meant for undressing with a man. We cannot let this lunacy be the end of female athletics as well as Title IX and what it was initially created to protect. But since taking a public stance on this issue back in March, I have been so fortunate to work with such great women and women advocates like Independent Women’s Forum. They have just made sure that I’m always able to freely speak my mind with no worry of censorship, and just while constantly offering support and sticking by my side, so I just want to thank them for that, especially in light of what has occurred the past couple of days.

I am so, so very thrilled to get to introduce the winner of the next award, IWF’s Resilience Award, Mrs. Tulsi Gabbard. Yes, we should all clap. Tulsi served in the U.S. military in Iraq and represented Hawaii in the House of Representatives from 2013 to 2021. She ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 and showed how one can be a forceful candidate while still being civil, showing decency and logic. Today she is bravely defending women’s rights, and we honor her tonight for standing up for her beliefs, and for women, and for common sense, and pushing back against those who seek to erase women as a distinct category. She has shown that one can be for inclusivity and compassion, but also recognize the blatantly obvious distinction between men and women. She has inspired so many others, including myself, to stand firm and without regret. I am so grateful, and I know we all are, for her leadership in protecting the interests of women, free speech, and civility. She is unapologetic and a leader in so many ways, clearly as showcased by her courage this past week alone. There are so few people – actually, I really can’t think of anyone, especially in politics, who are willing to identify hypocrisy and denounce these actions within their own political party affiliation. Mrs. Gabbard has dropped the gauntlet and said that she will not stand for this anymore. She has clearly exhibited that she is willing to do what’s right and rational and moral rather than do what is expected and follow a set script that does not align with her core values and priorities. We need more people like Tulsi Gabbard in this country. So, Tulsi, thank you for your service and thank you for everything you do as a proud American. I am so tremendously honored to present to you IWF’s Resilience Award.

Tulsi Gabbard: Give it up for Riley Gaines, please. You know, it was – just chatted for a few minutes before she came out here, and I said, “You graduated already, right?” She said, “Yeah, I did.” And she made a comment about timing, about the timing of what she went through and the choice that she had to make as a top-notch collegiate athlete when faced with an obstacle, when faced with adversity, when faced with the reality of what is true versus what is not, and faced with the silence of leaders at every level. So, she talked about strength, she talked about courage, she also talked about big shoulders. Whether she realizes it or not, Riley is carrying so many women and girls who came before her who are living through these challenges today and those who will come after her on those powerful shoulders. You inspire me, Riley. Leaders were created for such a time as this. And maybe Riley didn’t realize that she would be the leader that girls and women across the, people across the country need to hear from right now, and I am grateful she has chosen to step up and take on that challenge, especially given this is the 50th anniversary of Title IX. What better way than to have an example of a woman who has benefited because of Title IX stepping up on the front lines, being the tip of the spear to protect and uphold Title IX? I’m humbled and grateful to be here to join all of you this evening, humbled to have someone like Riley present this award to me, but really, I want to take the opportunity while being here to say thank you to all of you. Thank you to IWF. I’m thrilled to be in the presence of every person here tonight in some way, shape, or form, whether directly with the IWF, or in media, or state legislators, superintendents of education, all of you are here tonight because each of you are in the trenches in your own way, fighting these battles not for yourselves but for others. And because of the work that you are doing, change is afoot.

The challenges that we face are great. There’s no question about it. And no one knows that more than those collegiate athletes, those high school athletes, those – people serving on the boards of education, people who literally are on the front lines on a day-to-day basis dealing with the challenges that we are facing that seemed unimaginable not that long ago. You know, we heard in the opening remarks as we started this evening about how we have an administration in the White House and woke politicians in Washington, a Supreme Court Justice, who are unable to – unable and unwilling to define what a woman is, especially when some of them are women. How is it controversial to define what a woman is? We are in such a state of fear-mongering and cancel culture and bullying that a nominee to the Supreme Court, in front of the United States Senate, could not define what a woman is. How do you think an athlete in college is supposed to feel when faced with such a question or a challenge and the potential negative consequences when they speak the truth? It is the height of hypocrisy for those who claim to be feminists, for the Democratic Party, who claims to be champions for women over decades, fighting for the rights of women, fighting for equality, fighting for that level and fair playing field across our society. It is the height of hypocrisy for these very same people to deny that there is such a thing as a woman. I met Elizabeth here tonight, assistant superintendent of education in Virginia. Where – there she is. Where is she? She’s been fighting this fight for a lot of years and I’m so happy you came up and said hello, but there’s something that you told me, Elizabeth, that struck me. Elizabeth said, focus on the truth and how important it is that we uphold the concept of truth. Because yes, as confounding and confusing as this whole question of what is a woman, the underlying foundation and challenge is that those who don’t believe that there is such a thing as a woman are also denying that there is such a thing as truth. And what happens in our society when we have people in the highest positions of power who deny the existence of objective truth? What happens is then there is no such thing as truth. There is no such thing as reality. Truth becomes whatever the people in power at any given moment want it to be. We lose the foundation of reality when we cannot acknowledge that there is such a thing as truth, whether it is the truth of a biological fact of a difference between men and women, or the other truths that we’re dealing with in our everyday lives. The forces against the work that all of you are doing are strong. It takes courage now to do the things that seemed obvious and simple before. The fomenting of fear, trying to bully us into compliance, trying to bully us into self-censorship, is ever present everywhere we go. You may see it in the workplace, you definitely see it on social media, you definitely see it on the mainstream media. Whether it seems like there’s no more space for, hey, you know what, we can disagree without being disagreeable, or this is my perspective, you have a different perspective, that’s okay. Let’s have a conversation. There’s no space for freedom of speech. There’s no space for independent thought. It is conform or be canceled. Not only is that mindset as un-American as it gets, you couple that with those in power who are able to use the muscle of the law and law enforcement to try to force that compliance.

I just read a story the other day of an 80-year-old woman in Washington State named Julie. Her local Y.M.C.A. she goes to almost every day. She was there in the bathroom in the changing room. There were some young girls who were there, and then there was a biological male who was also there in the changing room, who was sitting there watching these young girls take off their swimsuits. She was so disturbed by this. This is – how can this be? How can anyone allow this to happen? She went to the managers of that Y. M. C. A., told them, aghast, this cannot be, you need to get rid of this person. He’s posing a threat to these young, vulnerable girls in the woman’s bathroom, in the locker room. And rather than doing what any one of us would do which is go in and take that threat out of the bathroom, they kicked her out of the Y.M.C.A. We hear these stories over and over again happening in communities across the country, these similar situation with a couple of high school students who found themselves in the bathroom with a biological male sitting in the corner, literally just sitting there watching girls change, went to the school administrators and complained, they took immediate action by counseling and punishing the girls. It’s hard to wrap my head around the state of this nation today. But this is why we’re here, and this is why the work that the Independent Women’s Forum is so important, this is why the courage that each of you display is so critical. It takes courage to speak the truth today. It takes courage to stand strong in the face of those threats. It takes courage to not respond to their hate with hate. It takes courage to stand and understand who we are fighting for. Drawing that strength from within, drawing that strength from each other, and knowing that we stand on the firm footing of the Constitution of the United States. We stand on firm footing, understanding that we are carrying out the vision that our founders had for us, that we are a free people living in a free society, able to make our own independent decisions and respecting the autonomy of each other as individuals. We stand tall and honor our mothers who came before us and our daughters who will come after us and know that as the arrows come flying for speaking the truth and saying there is such a thing as a woman, let those arrows fall off your coat of armor and remember that those attacks come from a place of weakness, insecurity, and fear.

This is where I draw my strength from. I’ve had a little experience dealing with – people don’t have nice things to say about me, or to me. It’s fine. It’s a free country. Say what you will. But I know what my purpose is. I love this country. Nothing is more powerful than love. And so, whether you’re fighting this important battle because of someone close to you in your life, it may be a daughter, or a sister, or a friend, and you love that person, you want to make sure that they are not hurt, or whether you’re fighting this fight because you love our country and you love freedom and you understand what’s at stake, when we come from that place of love, we are reminded there is nothing more powerful. There is nothing more powerful than a love a mother has for her child. There is nothing more powerful than a love that drives a soldier to go to war and put their life on the line for this country that we hold dear. Only love can defeat hate. In Hawaii, we call this aloha. I’m grateful to share this evening, and aloha with all of you, and charge every one of you to carry that aloha and that strength and courage in your heart, because we got a lot of work to do. Thank you so much for having me here tonight. Aloha.