Last week, the NCAA unveiled new sweeping policy changes, suddenly changing guidelines for the inclusion of transgender athletes, which advocates say “had been in place for over a decade and were developed through extensive stakeholder consultation.”
Making headlines across the country, Ohio’s Dorian Rhea Debussy, Ph.D. (they/them), one of 54 facilitators in the NCAA Division III LGBTQ OneTeam program, has now resigned in protest of the NCAA’s actions, including the lack of nondiscrimination policy language in the NCAA’s newly ratified constitution.
“I’m deeply troubled by what appears to be a devolving level of active, effective, committed, and equitable support for gender diverse student-athletes within the NCAA’s leadership,” said Debussy in their open letter.
Debussy serves as the Associate Director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Kenyon College. We present their open letter below without edit.
An Open Resignation Letter in Protest of the NCAA’s Updated Transgender Participation Policy
Since the creation of the program in spring 2019, I have served as a facilitator of the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s (NCAA’s) Division III LGBTQ OneTeam Program, which is a national training program that fosters LGBTQ+ inclusion in NCAA Division III athletics. As a member of the inaugural training cohort and one of only 54 certified facilitators across the country, I have taken this role very seriously, particularly given the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion in both athletic and educational settings. Complementing my experiences within the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Kenyon College, my time as a facilitator has been both rewarding and impactful. However, I—as one of the few transgender and/or non-binary facilitators and as the only trans-feminine facilitator—cannot remain quiet about recent developments at the NCAA.
Throughout my nearly three years as a facilitator for the NCAA’s Division III LGBTQ OneTeam Program, I have offered training sessions and individualized guidance to hundreds of coaches, athletics administrators, DEI professionals, fellow facilitators, and student-athletes across multiple colleges and states. During these past three years, there has also been a historic rise in anti-trans legislation, and this is particularly true of legislation aimed at restricting the participation of transgender, non-binary, and intersex student-athletes.
Over the past decade, the NCAA has taken an increasingly stronger stance in support of gender diverse student-athletes. In a 2008 statement, the NCAA noted that that gender diverse student-athletes were allowed to participate in affiliated athletic programs; however, they, at the time, deferred to state gender classifications and institutionally specific rules. Within two years, the NCAA adopted its (now former) transgender participation policy, and this policy—which certainly had room for growth in regards to more inclusive and equitable participation for trans-feminine and non-binary student athletes—governed collegiate sports for more than a decade.
In the not-so-recent past, the NCAA has also taken a number of public stances in support of LGBTQ+ rights. For instance, the President of the NCAA publicly condemned Indiana’s 2015 “religious freedom” legislation, which allowed for people to deny services to LGBTQ+ individuals under the guise of religious beliefs. In 2016, North Carolina passed HB2, which required gender diverse people to use the bathroom facilities that corresponded to their sex assigned at birth, and the NCAA’s response was both swift and clear. Publicly affirming their support for gender diverse student-athletes, coaches, and fans, they pulled seven different championships from the state. However, their steadfast opposition to anti-LGBTQ+—and especially anti-trans—legislation appears to have waned in recent years. For example, the NCAA, just last year, awarded championship tournaments to multiple states that had actually passed legislation, which limits the participation of gender diverse student-athletes.
As a facilitator of the NCAA’s Division III LGBTQ OneTeam Program, I have often engaged public efforts to show support for gender diverse student-athletes and to educate a wider audience about gender equity in athletics. During the wave of anti-trans legislation in spring 2021, I—along with two fellow co-facilitators, Seth Hayes of Denison University and Dr. Kyrstin Krist of Methodist University—collaboratively drafted an open letter of support for gender diverse student-athletes, which was then signed by nearly 40 other facilitators of the program. Similarly, I have also publicly spoken about this topic in a variety of venues, including an open conversation that was hosted by Athlete Ally and a recent panel discussion at the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission’s Power of Sport Summit.
Now, I must, once again, speak publicly in support of our gender-diverse student athletes. Earlier this week, the NCAA announced a major change to their transgender participation policy. While the NCAA’s press release notes some similarities to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) updated policy for the participation of transgender, non-binary, and intersex athletes, there are a number of key differences. Most notably, the NCAA notes that their updated policy still mandates rigid testing schedules for endocrine levels, while the IOC’s updated policy strongly emphasizes the importance of bodily autonomy and scientific evidence in ensuring fairness. Additionally, the NCAA also notes that their updated policy—instead of setting a clear expectation for inclusive and equitable participation—defers to relevant policies of the governing bodies for each individual sport, while also not setting a clear and direct expectation for a trans-inclusive environment. In contrast, the IOC’s updated policy clearly affirms the rights of athletes to participate safely and without prejudice, while also mandating that relevant policies for each sport must fall in line with the IOC’s framework and expectations for an evidence-based, non-discriminatory, and stakeholder-centered approach.
While advocacy organizations and transgender athletes have already begun to critique the NCAA’s updated transgender participation policy, there are also a number of other emerging issues, which coincide with this. Most alarmingly, the NCAA released a draft of their revised constitution in November 2021. As noted by a number of advocacy organizations, this draft removed previously existing non-discrimination language. Earlier this week, a similar coalition continued to advocate for the inclusion of non-discrimination language in the NCAA’s constitution, which is expected to be approved at the January 2022 convention. In the midst of a continued national wave of anti-trans legislation that is often aimed at gender diverse youth and young adults, I find the NCAA’s public response to this important issue as inadequate and troubling at best.
With that being said, I’m deeply troubled by what appears to be a devolving level of active, effective, committed, and equitable support for gender diverse student-athletes within the NCAA’s leadership. As a non-binary, trans-feminine person, I can no longer, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with the NCAA. Effectively immediately, I publicly resign from my role as a facilitator for the NCAA’s Division III LGBTQ OneTeam Program. While I will no longer facilitate this program, I look forward to continuing to offer support, resources, and training to coaches, athletic administrators, sports teams, and institutions of higher education, who are invested in ensuring a safer, more inclusive, and more equitable environment for gender diverse student-athletes.
And of course, I hope that the NCAA will quickly, actively, competently, and then consistently engage gender diverse student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and fans, so that they can better understand the impact and consequences of their most recent actions on the lives of our transgender, non-binary, and intersex youth and young adults.
Dorian Rhea Debussy, Ph.D.
Associate Director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies