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Emet Marwell delivers keynote for Trans Day of Visibility

Emet Marwell delivers keynote for Trans Day of Visibility

Marwell discussed trans inclusion following an NCAA policy change. | COURTESY OF EMET MARWELL

On March 31, Kenyon observed Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), featuring a keynote address on trans inclusion in athletics from Athlete Ally Policy and Programs Manager Emet Marwell. Over 150 people registered for the lecture, according to the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which co-sponsored the event with Unity House and Athletes for Equality. 

During the presentation, Marwell, an activist and graduate of Mount Holyoke College, shared his personal experience as a trans athlete, outlined the current landscape of anti-trans bills around the country, spoke about the activist work he and others are doing at Athlete Ally and presented the history of trans inclusion in athletics. The presentation was interactive, as Marwell took pauses to poll the audience about their experiences. 

Marwell’s lecture comes amid new challenges for trans people locally and nationwide. Since the start of the year, there have been more than 100 anti-trans bills introduced in state legislatures across the country, including the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill the Florida legislature passed last month, and a similar bill introduced by the Ohio state legislature this month. 

Associate Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dorian Rhea Debussy made national headlines earlier this year when they resigned from their volunteer position with the NCAA Division III LGBTQ+ OneTeam Program in response to an NCAA policy change about the eligibility of transgender athletes. While President Sean Decatur issued a statement two-and-a-half weeks later on Feb. 16 in support of Debussy, LGBTQ+ students on campus felt he should have done more given the thousands of transphobic comments directed at Debussy. In solidarity with Debussy, several trans students led an event on March 2 demanding that the College make a public statement in support of Debussy and condemning transmisogyny and take concrete steps to support trans students at Kenyon. 

On the eve of TDOV, President Sean Decatur published a statement condemning transphobia. “Trans and non-binary people are a vital part of the Kenyon community; they are our students, our alumni, our employees and our loved ones,” he wrote. “Let us move closer to our aspiration of being a community in which every person has a sense of full belonging — where we all are not only visible as our true selves but have the tools to reach our full potential.”

The statement also attempted to address the delayed response, as Decatur called on people to recognize past oversights. “Let us also recognize the ways in which we have fallen short of being strong allies,” he said. 

Micah Smith ’22, Student Council president and a former manager of Unity House, wrote an op-ed for The Buckeye Flame, an LGBTQ+ online magazine, criticizing Decatur’s statement. “A statement that asks for grace for ‘falling short of being strong allies’ is unacceptable,” they wrote.

Smith went on to describe other limitations of the statement. “There is also no recognition of the harm that this has caused to trans and non-binary students — especially since Rhea is a mentor to so many of us — and the following loss of trust that many of us feel in Kenyon, embodied in the demands that trans students delivered to Ransom Hall in early March,” they added.

Despite the back and forth between the College and LGBTQ+ organizations, the TDOV lecture provided an outlet for Kenyon students to speak openly with Marwell about his experiences as a varsity college field hockey athlete. Marwell explained how after publicly coming out during his first year of college, he was no longer allowed to play on the team. “It wasn’t a choice not to transition or be trans, as much as it was a choice to save my own life,” Marwell shared. He went on to say the support of his coaches, teammates, and college was essential for him. “They kept me around, they let me be team manager for the field hockey team, so I didn’t actually lose that athletics family that I was so terrified I would,” he said.

In addition to describing his own experience, Marwell directly addressed the NCAA policy change. “The full impacts of this new NCAA policy aren’t clear yet — it’s a whole mess,” he said. “A lot of people, organizations and experts are trying to understand, ‘What does this mean for trans athletes?’ and we really don’t know.” 

Marwell also expressed his frustration with the relentlessness of anti-trans legislation. “I’m getting tired — I said the same thing when I was presenting last year, that it was the worst year on record, but it’s just getting worse and worse,” he said. To lighten otherwise heavy sections, Marwell interspersed memes throughout the presentation. “If I’m not trying to both be honest but also a little snarky about stuff, it’s just gonna tear me apart,” Marwell said. 

Following the lecture, on April 1, Unity House held a day of action, where students wrote postcards to elected officials from around the country expressing support for trans athletes. Postcards are still available in Unity House.

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