Cynthia Millen, who has officiated for USA Swimming for 30 years, resigned last week in protest of Lia Thomas’ participation in women’s swimming.
Millen pulled out of the U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Championships, sharing her thoughts in a letter to USA Swimming, according to the Washington Times. In the letter, she expressed frustration that Thomas is allowed to swim as part of the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s swim team.
Thomas is a transgender athlete. This year, she began competing with the women’s swim team after competing for three years on the men’s swim team and more than two-and-a-half years on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). She ranks first in the NCAA among women in the 200 and 500 freestyles this season and 6th in the 1650 free – a race she won by 38 seconds at the Zippy Invite.
Millen said that if she officiated at a meet that included Thomas, that she would rule Thomas ineligible to compete against female swimmers, according to the Times, even though Thomas has met the NCAA-established criteria to compete in women’s races.
“If Lia came on my deck as a referee, I would pull the coach aside and say, ‘Lia can swim, but Lia can swim exhibition or a time trial. Lia cannot compete against those women because that’s not fair,’” Millen told The Washington Times.
USA swimming CEO Tim Hinchey said in a podcast with Brett Hawke last week that Thomas is not a member of USA Swimming, nor was she a participant at the U.S. Paralympic National Championships.
NCAA requires transgender athletes to undergo, for transgender women, a year of testosterone-suppression treatment. Thomas has fulfilled the requirement, and neither the NCAA nor USA Swimming has commented on her season. Thomas has only swum at meets as part NCAA’s Division I, but her times could help her qualify and compete at Olympic Trials, a USA Swimming meet.
“I told my fellow officials that I can no longer participate in a sport which allows biological men to compete against women,” Millen wrote in her letter. Everything fair about swimming is being destroyed.”
Millen said that if she officiated the meets Thomas swam at, she wouldn’t allow Thomas to swim. She said, though, that it should be up to swimming authorities, not athletes, to decide who should be able to compete in certain competitions.
“I don’t mean to be critical of Lia — whatever’s going on, Lia’s a child of God, a precious person — but bodies swim against bodies,” she said in the letter. “That’s a male body swimming against females. And that male body can never change. That male body will always be a male body.”
Millen also appeared on The Ingraham Angle, a show that airs on Fox News, to share her views. Millen emphasized the physical differences between men and women, saying that men swim 8-12 percent faster than women due to differences such as skeletal frame and lung capacity.
“Women, biologically, will never be faster than men,” Millen said on the show.
Millen’s comments reflect growing outrage over Thomas’ participation in the sport as a member of the Penn women’s team. But various organizations have come out in support of Thomas, as well, such as Outsports, an LGBTQ-focused sports publication, which has called the entire situation an example of “anti-trans panic.”
Another advocacy group, Athlete Ally, released a statement saying that Thomas deserves the opportunity to win and lose like everyone else.
As for Millen, she departs a job that provides only modest compensation at the highest level of the sport. Most USA Swimming officials are volunteers.
“If enough people walk off the deck,” Millen said, “or if enough referees say no, it will change. It’s wrong.”