After the NCAA updated its transgender policy, Dorian Rhea Debussy, associate director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Kenyon, made national headlines by publicly resigning in protest from their volunteer facilitator position on the NCAA Division III LGBTQ+ OneTeam Program. The program aims to understand and recognize the importance of LGBTQ issues and best practices to support LGBTQ+ student-athletes.
On Wednesday, Jan. 19, the NCAA’s Board of Governors announced a change in their policy regarding transgender athletes. In effect for the 2022 winter championships, the policy now leaves national governing bodies (NGBs) in charge of determining a trangender athlete’s eligibility. In response, Debussy resigned from their position, which they had served in since the program’s inception in 2019.
Shortly after the policy was announced, Debussy published a letter through Athlete Ally, an organization aiming to end LGBTQ+ discrimination, announcing their resignation from the NCAA Division III LGBTQ+ OneTeam Program.
“I find the NCAA’s public response to this important issue as inadequate and troubling at best,” Debussy said in the letter. “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.” Debussy will still offer guidance to athletic departments on how to make sports more inclusive for LGBTQ+ student-athletes, just not through the NCAA-affiliated program.
The policy change comes after University of Pennsylvania student-athlete Lia Thomas emerged as a top swimmer nationally in women’s swimming. Thomas competed on the men’s swim team for three years before transitioning. This winter, after joining the women’s swim team, Thomas has been on a tear in the pool, holding top times in the 200-yard freestyle, 500-yard freestyle and 1650-yard freestyle.
Delaney Gallagher ’23, who is a goalie on the women’s lacrosse team and co-chair of the Campus Senate, is overseeing the change in Kenyon’s moniker, as the Lords and Ladies currently uphold the gender binary. She believes that Thomas should be allowed to be allowed to compete as a women’s athlete. “It is more unjust that the way she feels about her own person is up to the interpretation of others, who want to force her to pick between who she is and what she loves,” Gallagher said. “No one starts the process of switching teams like that to pad stats or have easier competition — the way that as a society we have treated people who have gone through that journey has ensured that.”
The NCAA say it remains committed to its support of transgender student-athletes. “It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” said John DeGioia, president at Georgetown University (D.C.) and chair of the NCAA Board of Governors.
Debussy’s resignation is being covered not just in the world of sports, but in national LGBTQ+ media outlets as well. Chris Mosier, a transgender advocate and athlete, was also critical of the NCAA’s decision. “This was absolutely a missed opportunity for the NCAA,” he said. According to him, the policy had been working well for 10 years. Furthermore, many NGBs do not have policies in place for transgender athletes. “This creates many different standards for trans athletes,” Mosier said.
However, there has been a negative response to Debussy’s decision, specifically for their stance. A Fox News article about Debussy’s resignation repeatedly misgenders them. The comments section, with over 10,500 posts, criticized Debussy’s stance in a number of ways, from celebrating their resignation to using transphobic insults.
Recently, there have been multiple bills introduced affecting LGBTQ+ rights across the country. Thomas’s recent victories have only added fuel to the debate on LGBTQ+ rights, specifically whether transgender female athletes should be able to compete in women’s sports over concerns of fairness. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Maker is against allowing transgender women to compete in women’s swimming unless they can prove they do not have an unfair advantage. She is a member of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, whose mission is to include transgender girls and women in sports in an equitable way. The updated NCAA policy does not provide a solution, according to Hogshead-Maker. “It remains unclear if the NCAA women swimmers will have to compete in an unfair playing field or if current women’s records held by Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky are at risk,” Hogshead-Makar said.
Legendary Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps compared the NCAA’s response to that of their response to athletes’ doping. Phelps called on the organizing committee to create fair competition, but he failed to take a decisive stance on transgender athletes in sports. “We all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin, but I think sports should be played on an even playing field,” he said. “I don’t know what that looks like in the future but it’s hard.”
As of now, Thomas does not know whether she will be allowed to swim in the upcoming NCAA Division I Championship in Atlanta. What is clear, however, is Debussy is no longer partnering with the NCAA to help promote the interests of transgender athletes in college sports.
Sean Decatur, president of Kenyon and the NCAC, will miss Debussy’s work in helping develop policies and lead training programs on inclusion for transgender athletes — a feeling held across the country. “I’m also proud of [Debussy] for being willing to take a public stand when the NCAA trans policy towards participation of trans athletes took a different direction, and a direction that was inconsistent with the inclusive values that that program had in the past, and the inclusive values that the NCAA embraces as part of its larger set of values,” he said.