Cynthia Millen has officiated at USA Swimming events for 30 years, but she hung up her whistle last week in protest over Penn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, and she hopes others will follow her lead.
Ms. Millen said she notified USA Swimming of her decision in a Dec. 17 letter, saying she realized as she packed for the US Paralympics Swimming National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, that “I can’t do this, I can’t support this.” She pulled out of the event.
“I told my fellow officials that I can no longer participate in a sport which allows biological men to compete against women. Everything fair about swimming is being destroyed,” she said in her letter, which she shared with The Washington Times.
The 22-year-old Thomas has smashed records in her first year competing against women after three years on the men’s team, posting this nation’s best times in the 200 and 500 freestyle events and making a run at NCAA marks set by Olympic greats Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky.
Ms. Millen said that if she officiated at a meet that included Thomas, she would rule the University of Pennsylvania senior ineligible to compete against female swimmers.
“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,’” Ms. Millen told The Washington Times.
She also called on other volunteer officials to refuse to work meets in which male-born athletes take the block against women.
“This is not right because by doing this, we’re supporting this,” said Ms. Millen. “There are no swim meets if there are no officials.”
So far neither the NCAA nor USA Swimming, the governing body of swimming in the United States, have commented publicly on Thomas’s record-breaking season. Under NCAA rules, transgender athletes may compete on the women’s team after undergoing a year of testosterone-suppression treatment, which Thomas has done.
Even so, outrage over her participation is percolating. Swimming World editor-in-chief John Lohn said in a Dec. 19 editorial that the advantages enjoyed by post-pubescent transgender athletes like Thomas are “akin to doping.”
Some Penn parents vented their frustration in a letter last week to the NCAA and Penn, according to the [U.K.] Daily Mail. while two Penn female swimmers complained anonymously to OutKick, calling Thomas’s participation unfair and demoralizing.
Ms. Millen said the onus should be on the “adults in the room,” referring to the swimming authorities, not the athletes.
“People are saying, ‘Why don’t the swimmers just leave?’ Well, those are 19-, 20-year-old kids,” said Ms. Millen. “It’s up to us. We’re the ones who are supposed to be providing this fair competition. We should be the ones who should be saying, wait a minute.”
Pushing back are LGBTQ advocacy groups and publications such as Outsports, which blamed the uproar on “anti-trans panic.”
“Trans athletes — Lia, in particular — deserve love, support, care, access to be able to swim. And Lia, like any other athlete, should be able to win and lose,” said Athlete Ally director of policy and programs Anne Lieberman in a statement.
Ms. Millen, who appeared Wednesday on Fox’s “The Ingraham Angle,” argued that “bodies compete against bodies. Gender identities don’t swim.”
“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. “That’s a male body swimming against females. And that male body can never change. That male body will always be a male body.”
Critics argue that the NCAA’s testosterone requirement for male-to-female athletes is inadequate, given the advantages adult males enjoy in terms of muscle mass, lung capacity, skeletal structure, and other biological features.
“Boys are built differently than girls. I mean, we know that: Boys have the T-shape, the broad shoulders, the narrow hips,” said Ms. Millen. “Girls have the hips, they’ve got more drag, they’ve got boobs, they’ve got body fat.”
Even Olympic champions like Katie Ledecky cannot match the top men’s times. “Yes, a Katie Ledecky can beat a lot of guys, but in the end, the [best] guys are going to beat Katie Ledecky. Absolutely. The differential is 8-12% faster. Equally trained, they will always win,” said Ms. Millen.
While Thomas competes in NCAA Division I events, she has posted times that would help her qualify for the US Olympic team trials, which are run by USA Swimming.
“USA Swimming is the governing body for Olympic swimming,” said Ms. Millen. “All the officials are through USA Swimming, and your times count. Lia’s time counts not just for Penn and the Ivy League, it counts for USA Swimming, and if Lia would get an Olympic trial cut, Lia could go to Olympic trials.”
U.S. collegiate swimming distances are measured in yards and Olympic distances are measured in meters, but USA Swimming recognizes times converted from yards to meters in its qualifying cuts for the Olympic trials.
Thomas has also positioned herself for a berth at the NCAA Division I championships in March. Her season includes wins in the 100, 200, 500, 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle events, as well as relays, with some of her times setting pool, program and meet records.
Earlier this month, she won the 1,650 at the Zippy Invitational at the University of Akron with a time that was 38 seconds faster than the runner-up.
“That’s a lifetime in swimming,” said Ms. Millen.
Some other swimming officials privately agree with her, she said, but are reluctant to speak out.
“I’ve talked to some other officials, and while they say yeah, this is ridiculous, I think a lot of people feel like they can’t do anything about it,” said Ms. Millen. “But you’ve got to make a stand sometimes. If enough people walk off the deck, or if enough referees say no, it will change. It’s wrong.”
So far USA Swimming has not responded to her letter. The Washington Times has reached out to the organization for comment.
“I haven’t heard anything. I think they are so worried themselves,” said Ms. Millen. “They get a lot of sponsorship money from a lot of big companies, and I think they’re worried. They don’t want to appear that they’re not being inclusive, but this is not being inclusive. This is being deceitful.”