WASHINGTON – This week Riley Gaines is testifying on Capitol Hill about protecting girls' sports. Her appearance before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Health comes as she launches the new Riley Gaines Center at the Leadership Institute.
At just 23 years old, Riley knows what it's like to be in the spotlight. Swimming for the University of Kentucky, she had to share the podium with Lia Thomas, formerly Will Thomas. The two tied for fifth place in the NCAA's 2022 women's 200 freestyle. Thomas would go on to win first place in the women's 500 freestyle, becoming the first trans athlete to win an NCAA national championship.
"After we tied, the NCAA official looked at both Thomas and myself – Thomas who's towering over me at 6'4" – and the official says, 'Great job you two but you tied and we only have one trophy so we're going to give this trophy to Lia,'" Riley recalled in an interview with CBN News.
She says that moment launched her into advocacy. Since graduating, Riley has traveled the country speaking on college campuses, testified before lawmakers at the state and federal levels, and given many news interviews.
It's unfathomable that a 23 yr old has to go sit in front of Congress & tell them men and women are different lol https://t.co/OGCy4KqZlk
— Riley Gaines (@Riley_Gaines_) December 6, 2023
Now, part of her advocacy also includes the Leadership Institute which recently launched the Riley Gaines Center.
"When I started speaking out, I noticed a common theme," Gaines told CBN News. "I had a lot of people, prominent figures even, people with influential platforms, people who I wouldn't have imagined would agree with me on the kind of issues that stem into the political world, that would reach out and say, 'Thank you for doing what you're doing. Keep going, keep fighting. I can't say anything because I have sponsorships or endorsements or scholarships or I'm in corporate America and I don't want to deal with lawsuits.' Whatever it was, and after seeing this I kind of began to feel frustrated. We need more leaders."
That's the goal of the Riley Gaines Center, to build up and equip more young leaders like her.
"The mission here is to continue the work of Riley," Bryan Bernys, Vice President of Campus Programs at the Leadership Institute, told CBN News. "One of the things you'll hear Riley often say is – and her kind of idea behind the center – was to provide the resources that she wished she had when she was dealing with the issues she was (facing) at the University of Kentucky."
Bernys says the Center has already been able to provide those resources to many others, one being Olivia Krolczyk, a student at the University of Cincinnati who was given a failing grade on an assignment for using the term "biological women."
"Kaitlynn Wheeler is another one," added Bernys. "A teammate at Kentucky of Riley's decided that she wanted to get in the fight and join her and now Kaitlynn's doing speeches. She spoke out recently in Alabama on a college campus about this issue. She's done media interviews to try to lend her voice to the fight."
Bernys says this trans issue is about more than just sports and is an issue that affects all of us. He and Gaines are encouraging anyone who supports this fight to reach out to the Riley Gaines Center at the Leadership Institute and get involved.
"The more women that get involved, everybody that gets involved and steps up and stands with Riley, the better we're going to be."
Their message: There's power in numbers.