Riley Gaines

This content was last updated Feb. 24, 2024, 2:32 a.m. UTC

Riley Gaines is a former collegiate swimmer from Gallatin, Tennessee, who competed for the University of Kentucky’s NCAA swim team. She is best known for her anti-transgender political activism following a fifth place tie with University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who is transgender, in the 2022 NCAA women’s swimming championships.

Gaines’ political activism primarily takes the form of paid speaking engagements and interviews with conservative media regarding her belief that trans women athletes should not be allowed to compete against cisgender women in sports.

In August of 2022, Gaines announced her co-chairship for anti-transgender political action committee Nine PAC, dedicated to removing transgender athletes from competitive sports. She is also a regular interviewee of Fox News, a spokeswoman for Charles Koch-funded conservative political group Independent Women's Forum (IWF) and is associated with the alt-right group Turning Point USA (TPUSA). In July 2023 Gaines launched a podcast for the anti-woke sports blog OutKick.

Gaines married in March of 2023 and may also be identified as Riley Barker.

Women's sports are not a place for males to seek affirmation at the expense of women and girls.

Gaines for the Daily Mail, 22 May 2023

Education and Credentials

Gaines graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2022, majoring in Health Sciences.

In 2022, Gaines was the Southeastern Conference Women's Swimming and Diving Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She was also nominated for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award, alongside Lia Thomas, though neither woman won the award.

2022 NCAA Women’s Swimming Championships

In March of 2022, Gaines tied for fifth with transgender athlete Lia Thomas in the 200 meter freestyle competition at the NCAA Division I Women's Swimming and Diving Championships. Though Gaines first reported she was “in full support of her transition and her swimming career,” and insisted she was not upset with Thomas personally, she has since changed her story about Thomas’ behavior at the competition to suggest that she was malicious and voyeuristic.

Gaines devoted herself to anti-transgender activism, stating that she deferred plans to receive a degree in dentistry because of her experience sharing a locker room with Thomas.


Gaines is frequently interviewed for and quoted in anti-transgender articles on Fox News’ website and in their television programming, including segments such as the now canceled Tucker Carlson Tonight. She has also contributed five opinion pieces to Fox News’ website, where she has repeatedly advocated for federal laws that define womanhood by sexual anatomy.

In August 2022, Gaines attended a Colorado Springs “Red Wave” political event to announce that she would cochair political action committee Nine Pac, founded by failed 2022 senatorial candidate Eli Bremmer and devoted to dismantling federal civil rights law Title IX such that it would not apply to transgender Americans.

After being invited to San Francisco State University’s campus in April of 2023 by alt-right political group Turning Point USA to discuss her desire to remove transgender athletes from competitive sports in America, Gaines was met with protests. She claims to have been assaulted and “held hostage” by protestors after this event.

In July 2023 Gaines launched the podcast Gaines for Girls with the anti-woke sports blog OutKick. In August 2023 Gaines announced the creation of the Riley Gaines Center at the Leadership Institute as the “exclusive home of Riley’s work.” The website for the Center suggests that it exists to support Gaines’ public speaking and help recruit and train other speakers like her. The Leadership Institute is a conservative nonprofit with close ties to Moms for Liberty.

In August 2023, Moms for Liberty hosted a “Forum on Fair and Safe Sport For Girls” speaking event at the Mary L. Stephens Library in Davis, California. After repeatedly misgendering transgender women during the forum, library staff ended the event prematurely.

The day after the event, anti-transgender conservative Twitter account Libs of TikTok shared a video in which a member of library staff states that attendees cannot misgender transgender people during their forum. In response, a member of Moms for Liberty demanded that he call the police so that they could speak to Kim Jones, cofounder of Independent Council on Women’s Sports (ICONS), over the phone. Anti-LGBTQ+ activist group California Family Council later shared a video on Twitter of Moms for Liberty being asked to leave by library staff.

Gaines shared California Family Council’s tweet, stating that “a female athlete [was] silenced for calling a spade a spade,” and asking her audience of over 700,000 followers to find staff members’ names and phone numbers. She replied to her own tweet a few hours later to provide the library’s phone number and instructions on how to reach an “operator,” demanding that “everyone call.” Later that day, a bomb threat against the library was sent via email containing hate speech. Local authorities evacuated the library and two adjacent buildings, as well as a nearby elementary school, before conducting a search that resulted in no bombs being discovered.

When LGBTQ+ news outlet Pink News accurately reported the connection between Gaines’ tweets and the bomb threat, Gaines threatened litigation for “libel and character assassination” in two separate tweets.

In November 2023, Gaines advocated for the banning of transgender women from women’s chess in the FIDE, claiming she had worked with them on the ban.

Spiritual Awakening

According to an article in the Christian Post, Gaines addressed Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg Virginia on July 9, 2023 where she credited a recent spiritual awakening with motivating her activism.

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