Skip to main content

Anti-trans activist to speak at SF State Thursday

Former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines speaks during a rally on Jan. 12, 2023, outside of the NCAA Convention in San Antonio. | Darren Abate, AP Photo

A former collegiate swimmer-turned-anti-trans activist will visit San Francisco State University this week, invited by the campus chapter of a national conservative group. 

For an event dubbed “Saving Women’s Sports,” conservative activist group Turning Point USA will host Riley Gaines on Thursday evening, to the outcry of queer and trans students on campus. 

Since tying for fifth place with a transgender swimmer named Lia Thomas in 2022, Gaines has become an activist in right-wing circles, visiting college campuses to crusade against trans athletes for having a perceived advantage in sports. Thomas’ swim times are on par with cis women, according to a data analysis by The Independent. 

“Basically, all I wanna say is that it takes a brain, and common sense, and 5th-grade biology-level understanding to realize this is blatantly unfair,” Gaines said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March. “It’s completely obvious […] Keep female sports female.”

San Francisco State’s Queer and Trans Resource Center decided against a protest, determining it would play into Turning Point’s strategy to incite conflict, said director Chloe Simson, a grad student who is nonbinary and trans. Instead, the center will host a sports mixer to uplift local queer and trans sports teams, also on Thursday evening.

The center has received calls and messages nearly every day from horrified students and professors, both on and off campus. The group has called for the event’s cancellation and condemnation from university administration, to no avail. 

“They’ve been approaching students, very often pushing transphobic beliefs and rhetoric, mostly focusing around trying to pose trans people as a threat,” Simson said of the tabling and flyering leading up to the event. “This is the most overt thing I’ve ever seen and genuinely the first time I’ve felt unsafe on campus and unprotected by the university.” 

Turning Point’s campus chapter did not return a request for comment in time for publication. 

SF State’s Turning Point USA club has hosted events like anti-abortion gatherings, “How Wokeism is Destroying America” and the screening of an anti-trans documentary by Matt Walsh titled “What is a Woman?” 

University officials sent a message to employees and students on Monday afternoon noting that it must uphold freedom of expression as a public institution and that Turning Point is a recognized student organization. They encouraged students and staff to “engage in critical and intellectual dialogue.”

“As well, we encourage you to not engage, to look the other way, not to get baited into a debate or argument, to not to take personally any event that happens on campus that you agree with or disagree with,” the email read. 

Simson cannot recall when the Turning Point chapter formed but noticed them in action this semester. 

“It really ties together a lot of their core beliefs, which go far beyond transphobia, and that’s been something that’s very uncomfortable to see on campus,” Simson said. “Free speech doesn’t mean you can’t take an institutional stance against transphobia so students know the institution stands with them and will keep them safe.”

Turning Point USA was cofounded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, who serves as executive director as well as chairman of Students for Trump.