Just over one year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d find myself barricaded inside a classroom in a building on the campus of San Francisco State University.
Outside the door a violent, racist mob chanted threats against me.
‘Open the door, we want Riley,’ they screamed.
‘Why are you protecting a white woman?’ the mob spit at security.
‘This is vengeance.’
‘You’re protecting a transphobe.’
How had it come to this?
Only moments before I was hurriedly shuffled into a side office, I was standing in front of a crowded room speaking about the disturbing, and growing, trend of biological males competing in women’s sports and attempts by radical activists to gag women who dare to speak out.
For nearly a year, I’ve been traveling from campus to campus sharing my personal story of racing University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who was formerly known as Will Thomas.
Will Thomas was a mediocre male athlete. But in 2021, after coming out as ‘transgender,’ Lia Thomas started dominating female competition. In the female category, Thomas defeated Olympians, American record holders, and some of the most impressive women in the sport.
Of course, I knew this was wrong. But it wasn’t until I competed against Thomas myself that I fully understood the depths of this injustice.
I raced against Thomas in March 2022 in the 200 freestyle. We tied. We finished at the exact same moment down to 100ths of a second.
But after we stepped down from the awards podium, an NCAA official looked at both Thomas and me and said, ‘Great job, you tied. But we don’t account for ties. So, the trophy goes to Lia.’
That struck me as strange, so I questioned him. As it turns out, that may have been the first time anyone had ever questioned why Thomas received special treatment. And the official’s answer shocked me.
He said that Thomas would hold the trophy for picture purposes.
That’s when I realized that the NCAA no longer valued everything that I, my teammates and every other girl swimming that day had worked their entire lives to achieve. The goal was no longer excellence in women’s sport. The goal was virtue signaling on the backs of women.
That’s when I knew I had to speak out. I wanted to be part of a conversation about what is happening in women’s sports so that we can find a way to accommodate trans-identified athletes without marginalizing or discriminating against female athletes.
Unfortunately, it seems that the people pushing for trans-inclusion in the female sporting category are more interested in silencing and threatening their opponents than in engaging in dialogue. These radical activists would rather bully their way into women’s locker rooms and women’s competitions than look for a way to create equal opportunities for all. So much for good sportsmanship.
I am not afraid to confront bullies. But when I arrived at San Francisco State University, I expected that campus police would be there to ensure my safety. They were nowhere to be found.
Nevertheless, the organizers of the speech and I walked to the room, and I proceeded to give my speech to a packed house of supporters, protesters, and the merely curious. The entire time that I was speaking, I could hear chanting from outside the window and from the hallway: ‘Trans women are women’, ‘Trans liberation’ and ‘It’s time to fight back.’
Inside the room I was heckled, interrupted, and insulted. But while this was disappointing, the protesters were basically peaceful – that is, until the moment my speech ended.
After I finished fielding questions, a group from outside the room swarmed in, turned off the lights, and pushed toward me at the front of the room. I was backed up against the podium. I was cornered and increasingly nervous.
A man wearing women’s clothing intentionally hit me – twice. The first blow landed on my shoulder. The second one glanced off my shoulder and hit me in the face.
Another woman with my group was also attacked. I later saw a picture of a girl grabbing her by the face.
A female undercover campus police officer, whom I didn’t even know was in the room, rushed to my side. She wasn’t wearing anything that indicated she was a police officer and her face was covered with a black mask.
She kept saying, ‘follow me, follow me,’ but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who she was or if she was trying to help me or harm me. I stood there stunned for a minute.
Eventually, I was pulled and pushed out the door and into the hallway – where I was cornered again. A woman stood in front of me – shouting in my face. Both sides of the hallway were blocked, there was no clear exit. We had nowhere to go. The police appeared terrified.
Uniformed campus police officers shuffled me off to a side hall and office entrance, which was initially locked, as the mob swarmed around us. It was in that office where I waited with campus security for the next three hours as the mob raged outside.
As the hours ticked by I turned to a campus officer and told him that I was missing a flight home to Tennessee and wanted to leave. He looked at me and said, ‘Well, don’t you think we all want to go home?’
I have incredible respect for law enforcement, but these officers seemed scared. I got the impression that they were afraid to challenge these ambushers for fear of what may happen to them.
And there we sat, as protesters banged the walls, chanted and yelled, ‘You’re protecting a white woman with white privilege,’ and specifically insulted black campus police officers, who stood at the doors protecting me.
By 11:30pm, San Francisco Police responded. They formed a cordon around me, and we left the building, breaking into a run as the mob chased me into a waiting car.
By 2:00 am, I was back in my hotel. Shaken and exhausted, but not deterred. Because for all the rage and intimidation, that mob failed. They did not silence me, and they will not silence me. Their behavior did not diminish my arguments. On the contrary, it proved that they are misogynists fueled by hate.
And I won’t let them stop me from fighting on.
The truth is: this extreme movement doesn’t want equal rights. They want to deny women rights – our right to compete, our right to privacy, and our right to speak out.
I’m hoping that what happened to me in San Francisco will encourage more parents, athletes, coaches, and others to open their eyes and their mouths.
Because when the mob tries to silence you, the best response is to speak louder.