Riley Gaines makes waves in Omaha
Riley Gaines on stage with Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen

Riley Gaines makes waves in Omaha

On Sunday evening, Riley Gaines, an American former competitive swimmer from Gallatin, Tennessee, came to La Vista to talk about protecting women’s sports. She spoke to a crowd of around 1200 people in a ballroom filled to capacity at the Embassy Suites Conference Center in La Vista. The event was hosted by Patriotic Productions, a nonprofit organization in Omaha known for honoring fallen military servicemembers with events such as a parade held in downtown Omaha over Memorial Day weekend.

Gaines entered the national spotlight in 2022 when she was required to share a locker room and compete with a male swimmer named Lia Thomas (formerly Will Thomas). Gaines tied for fifth place with him in the 200 freestyle, but she was denied the chance to share in a trophy, which was awarded solely to Thomas instead.

Gaines has since been the target of trans activists after speaking out about her experience. At a speaking engagement at San Francisco State University in April 2023, activists stormed the room and assaulted gained before holding her against her will in a nearby office. Gaines asked campus police in attendance for help. She recalled, “They told me, ‘We can’t, sorry, we really can’t, because we can’t be seen as anything other than an allies in this community.'”

Organizers of the La Vista event also anticipated protestors, placing a sign at the door, which said “protestors will be removed.” Only one protestor appeared to show up, however, and he remained on the sidewalk outside carrying a flag.

Dr. Greg Brown, a professor of Exercise Science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, also spoke at the event. He explained the biological difference between men and women competing in sports. “Everything we can biologically test for with a trans woman says that they are male. It’s therefore reasonable to conclude that trans women have inherent male athletic advantages,” Brown said. “Testosterone suppression and taking estrogen does not erase the differences between males and females — anatomically, physiologically, or in storage performance. Therefore, in order to allow females an opportunity to enjoy all of the benefits of sports, male bodies should not be allowed into girls’ or women’s sports.”

Another speaker was Carol Moseke Frost, mother of Scott Frost and a former Olympic athlete, who competed in the discus throw behind the “Iron Curtain.” She spoke specifically on women at the time using steroids for a competitive advantage. Also sharing the stage were a handful of elected officials, including Gov. Jim Pillen, Senator Pete Ricketts, and State Senator Kathleen Kauth. Scott Voorhees from KFAB was the emcee. Riley Gaines was introduced by Jordy Bahl, an American college softball pitcher and two-time champion at Oklahoma, now playing for Nebraska.

Gaines has since worked to pass a state-level Women’s Bill of Rights, which defines the word “woman” in law. “I can’t believe that our laws have to define that, but they do,” Gaines said. The bill passed first in Kansas after the legislature was able to override a veto from Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly. The bill passed next in Tennessee, Gaines’ home state. “Tennessee was the 36th state to pass voting rights for women,” Gaines noted, “but the second state to define what a woman is.” The bill then passed in Oklahoma with an executive order signed by Gov. Stitt, to which Gaines commented, “Let’s talk, Governor Pillen.” At the conclusion of the event, Pillen retook the stage and responded, “I’m really grateful that we have lots of partners in the legislature, so we have support to get that executive order going tomorrow.”

Gaines’ appearance stirred the ire of state senator Megan Hunt on Twitter, who responded, “It can be hard, when we’re young, to not win a trophy sometimes. But we grow up and realize it’s not the end of the world and we don’t need to turn that loss into our entire personality.” Hunt’s remarks drew immediate backlash from conservative commentators such as Dr. Jordan Peterson and Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld. Gaines appeared to take the attack in stride. “Love all the quote tweets and replies calling this exactly what it is: misogyny. I hope your constituents see this.”

Update: on Wednesday, Aug. 30, Gov. Pillen followed through and signed an Executive Order establishing the Women’s Bill of Rights, as he suggested he would do while on stage with Riley Gaines.