Some social media users pointed out what they interpreted as an awkward moment between former President Donald Trump and swimmer Riley Gaines at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday in Dallas.
The ex-president was speaking about defending parental rights when it comes to teaching children topics in school that are related to sexual identity and sexual orientation, before he switched to weighing in on women’s sports and the transgender community.
“We will keep men out of women’s sports,” he told the crowd at CPAC, before calling Gaines to the stage as he described her as a “great champion” and a “beautiful” swimmer.
Trump tried to kiss her on the cheek when she approached the podium, but she appeared in the eyes of many observers to experience some discomfort with it. Political commentator and attorney Ron Filipkowski described her as flinching and pulling away from the ex-president on Twitter on Sunday. Gaines did, however, seem more comfortable in the rest of her appearance as she spoke about transgender athletes participating in women’s sports. She also interacted more with Trump, smiling and shaking his hand.
Social Media Reacts
“Riley Gaines, the former SEC champion swimmer, comes up on stage and awkwardly manages to avoid a kiss from Trump. Cue the memes!” Michael Hardy, a senior editor for Texas Monthly, tweeted.
Meanwhile, Twitter user Matt Murphy wrote: “At CPAC, Trump brings up the swimmer Riley Gaines and he couldn’t keep his hands off her. Then they both bash the trans community. Creepy stuff.”
Another Twitter user, Cliff W, said: “She was being introduced by Trump when he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. Video of the incident shows her appearing to pull her head away from him.”
“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. It’s completely obvious…. Keep female sports female,” the athlete said during her speech.
Commenting on transgender people winning in women’s sports competitions, Trump then joked: “Just to show you how ridiculous it is. Look at me, I am much bigger and much stronger than her, there is no way she could beat me in swimming, do we all agree.” The crowd laughed and then applauded the former president for his remarks.
Gaines has previously expressed that she is against trans athletes participating and winning titles in women’s swimming competitions. Last month, she commented on the University of Pennsylvania nominating trans swimmer Lia Thomas for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award.
The NCAA announced in July the more than 240 nominations for its 2022 Woman of the Year award, in which Gaines was also nominated.
“Being the real girl in that photo and also University of Kentucky’s nominee for NCAA WOTY, this is yet another slap in the face to women. First a female national title and now nominated for the pinnacle award in collegiate athletics. The @NCAA has made this award worthless,” she tweeted at the time.
Thomas became the first trans athlete to win a NCAA Division I title in March after finishing first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle championship.
However, her success has drawn some criticism as many debated whether it is fair to include trans athletes in women’s sports. Some argued that Thomas, who transitioned in 2019, has an unfair competitive edge over her cisgender teammates and should take part in men’s teams instead.
Thomas’ supporters have argued that including trans women in the teams of the gender they identify with is important to validate their identity, adding that Thomas already meets the NCAA’s criteria for trans women athletes.
A number of Republican-controlled states including South Dakota and Florida have banned transgender athletes from competing in female sports. Caitlyn Jenner, a former Olympic athlete and famous transgender celebrity who ran for California governor last year, shared similar views.
“This is a question of fairness,” Jenner told TMZ. “That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls sports in school. It just isn’t fair. And we have to protect girl sports in our schools.”
Newsweek reached out to the UK Athletics Communication and Public Relations department for comment.