Members of the Columbia University fencing team were informed Friday by the Secret Service they wouldn't be allowed to directly deliver a letter to President Donald Trump about his administration's stance on gender issues during a Champions Day visit to the White House.
Lions team captain Elise Gout told Scott Gleeson of USA Today they instead handed the message to a member of the president's staff.
"We passed the letter to a member of the [White House] press team, but it remains unclear if [the press team spokesman] will actually deliver it as he said he would," Gout said.
Fellow captain Nolen Scruggs said the team moved forward with a silent protest by wearing large white lapel pins for gender equality, per Jacob Bogage and David Nakamura of the Washington Post.
"The goal might not necessarily even be to communicate with the president but to communicate with the American people and get them to jump-start a conversation that might not already be happening," Scruggs said. "There's physical evidence that we did this, and just that alone is important."
They also provided the Washington Post with a copy of the letter they hoped to give Trump. It read in part:
"Since your time in office, you and your administration have proposed removing protective measures in Title IX that support survivors of campus sexual assault. Your recent Title X domestic gag rule has withheld critical financial resources from public health care providers, choking the access to family planning and contraceptive services. You have perpetuated a culture that conditions women and minority gender identities to be silent—to sacrifice the space they have every right to take up.
"Mr. President, we did not win NCAAs by sacrificing our space, and we will not secure a better future for this country by selectively representing the liberties of those within it. We ask that you recognize the harms to gender equality within the actions of your administration—be they by appointment, by policy, or even by your own language."
The Columbia fencing team, a coed squad, was among 22 collegiate national title-winning teams to visit the White House on Friday.
"And meeting these athletes—they're real athletes, I can tell you. It's a tremendous achievement," Trump told reporters. "And we're bringing many of them over to the Oval Office. I guess all of them. So far, nobody has turned that one down because it is a special place. They want to be there within 25 years, somebody out of here."
The Lions are a national powerhouse, winning three of the last five NCAA championships.