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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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The uncommon courage of Riley Gaines

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ONE of the most salient features of contemporary American life is the lack of courage. Indeed, cowardice is almost palpable in the air we breathe and must be factored into our interactions and dealings with other people.

This feature is especially noticeable among America’s elites. Hardly a day passes without some craven university administrator or media or corporate bigwig, not to mention a high-ranking military officer or two, caving into pressure from the narcissistic and ignorant children who increasingly determine what we are allowed to think and, more crucially, what we are not allowed to think, but also the words we choose in order to communicate. The wrong word can destroy you professionally and get you hounded out of polite society.

Having said this, I do not mean that America lacks courageous people. Quite the opposite. Just think of the brave men and women of law enforcement and the first responders who risk their lives on a daily basis to preserve civilisation and the rule of law, and who now often face the contempt of those they seek to protect. Think also of the men and women who guard those convicted of violent crimes in our prisons. They endure these existential risks for little pay and less gratitude but are the backbone of this nation – albeit a nation that is, I fear, coming apart at the seams.

Nor do I mean to impugn those young people who choose to serve their country in the armed forces, being prepared to sacrifice life and limb for a nation that is squandering their patriotism and valour on cockamamie schemes to turn medieval theocracies into modern Sweden and introduce gender studies courses at the local universities, schemes dreamed up by well-heeled elites, many of whom do little if anything to disguise their contempt for the America their less-privileged compatriots risk all to defend. 

Then there is the legion of ordinary Americans with mortgages and college tuition fees to pay, working for woke corporations or in the professions and forced by human resources departments to attend humiliating workshops on unconscious bias or Critical Race Theory, understandably fearful of losing their livelihoods, and who go along with the latest ideological claptrap in order to keep their jobs and remain in the middle class, something that is becoming increasingly challenging in Biden’s America.

Accusing such people of cowardice would be indecent to say the least. Indeed, theirs is what the realist school of nineteenth-century painters dubbed the ‘heroism of ordinary life’. But you will not find people like this in corporate boardrooms or in faculty lounges, nor in the upper echelons of the military or among those who report upon or own the great sports’ franchises that preoccupy the imaginative lives of so many ordinary, decent Americans. This is why we must celebrate courageous people wherever and whenever they appear amongst us, especially given their increasing rarity.

Besides being a very fine athlete, swimmer Riley Gaines is one of those rare human beings who are daring to speak out against the insanity that has overwhelmed our society in recent and has left many otherwise decent and rational individuals speechless from fright, although exactly what it is they fear is not always easy to quantify.

Riley’s athletic accomplishments speak for themselves. Far be it from me to quantify her accomplishments in the swimming pool, having once nearly drowned circa 1970 attempting to compete in a race that required using the euphemistically named butterfly stroke. But I have it on good authority that those accomplishments are considerable. A 12-time All-American swimmer with five Southeastern Conference titles, she was selected as the 2022 Southeastern Conference Women’s Swimming and Diving Scholar-Athlete of the Year while at the University of Kentucky.

Her plans to pursue a post-graduate dental degree upon graduation and her entire life changed when she was forced to share a changing room with a lanky biological male named Lia Catherine Thomas, born William ‘Will’ Thomas. Adding insult to injury, Riley was compelled to compete against Thomas at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Swimming Championship.

How William Thomas went from being ranked number 462 in men’s swimming to being ranked number one in women’s swimming after changing his name and pretending to be a girl does not concern me here, however outrageously unfair it was to the young women against whom he competed, many of whom were threatened with losing scholarships, graduate school admissions, and career opportunities if they spoke out. All I want to do is to highlight the courage of the young woman who spoke out against the grave injustice of allowing a 6ft 4in biological male to compete against females.

In April of this year, Riley Gaines was verbally and physically abused as she attempted to give a talk at San Francisco State University about how that injustice and others like it is harming women’s sports. Barricading herself in a classroom for three hours, she was subjected to the hate-driven and profanity-laden screaming that is now expected in such situations. Receiving no assistance from campus security, she was compelled to call for help from the local police and ended up missing her flight home. University administrators praised the students and called the events ‘deeply traumatic’ – not for Gaines, but for the trans community on campus.

San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney wrote: ‘To our trans community, please know how welcome you are. We will turn this moment into an opportunity to listen and learn about how we can better support you’. When I read this, my stomach growled.

But I would much rather give Riley Gaines the last word. Commenting on Twitter on her treatment at San Francisco State University, she tweeted, ‘When they want you silent, speak louder.’

Those seven words uttered by a young woman in her early twenties with little power, rejected and vilified by so-called ‘liberal’ elites from coast to coast, should become the mantra for anyone determined to resist those who would tell you that two plus two equals five.    

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Bernard Carpenter
Bernard Carpenter
Bernard Carpenter is a semi-retired history teacher.

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