NCAA diversity trainer quits over ‘deeply disappointing’ trans athletes rule change

Side by side images of Dorian Rhea Debussy and a basketball with a NCAA logo on it

A non-binary facilitator for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has resigned in protest at the governing body’s new policy on trans participation.

Dorian Rhea Debussy was one of 54 facilitators for the NCAA’s Division III inclusivity programme, LGBTQ One Team. In the role they helped train athletes, coaches, staff members and other facilitators in the best inclusion practices.

They were the only openly transfeminine person among the programme’s facilitators, Sports Illustrated reported.

Debussy announced in a letter, published on Monday (24 January) by the advocacy organisation Athlete Ally, that they would be stepping back from their role “effectively immediately”.

They cited the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion, which effectively pushes the responsibility for trans inclusion onto each individual sport’s governing body.

“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 said.

They continued: “As a non-binary, trans-feminine person, I can no longer, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with the NCAA.”

Debussy also noted that the NCAA’s new policy shared “some similarities” to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) updated policy for the participation of trans, non-binary and gender diverse athletes.

The IOC policy, which goes into effect in March, mandates that individual sports will set their own rules around trans inclusion.

However, Debussy underlined crucial differences between the NCAA and IOC policies.

They explained the NCAA’s new policy “still mandates rigid testing schedules for endocrine levels” while the IOC’s policy “strongly emphasises the importance of bodily autonomy and scientific evidence in ensuring fairness”.

The IOC said in November that total testosterone levels are no longer considered to be the most important factor in determining whether trans women should be allowed to compete. As such, it said individual sporting bodies would set their own rules around the participation of trans athletes.

NCAA accused of neglecting responsibilities

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has also condemned the NCAA for updating its policy on the inclusion of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming student-athletes.

Joni Madison, interim president of the HRC, said the organisation needed to show its “playbook for protecting LGBTQ+ and specifically transgender athletes from discrimination” in light of the new policy.

She added that the new trans policy was especially concerning as it “came as a surprise to advocates who had been engaging with the NCAA on this issue”.

“Their rollout of this policy has left many athletes and individual sports programs confused, concerned, and uncertain about their own future,” Madison said.

She continued: “The NCAA refusing to take responsibility for ensuring that LGBTQ+ athletes, women and athletes of colour have safe, equitable ability to participate in athletics puts schools and conferences in an impossible position and makes it more difficult to enforce fairness amidst an ever-changing patchwork of state laws across the country.

“The NCAA’s unresponsiveness, unwillingness to re-implement common sense language, and inability to enforce their own policies to protect athletes vulnerable to discrimination are all deeply disappointing and dangerous.

“We know they are capable of better.”

The NCAA’s new policy comes at a time when there is a growing number of anti-trans bills being introduced in state legislatures across the US, many targeting student athletes.

In the first few weeks of 2022, lawmakers in at least seven states have proposed laws targeting the rights of people in the trans community.

Last year, more than 130 anti-trans bills were proposed across 33 states, according to the HRC.

Since 2020, 10 states have enacted cruel laws restricting the participation of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming athletes in school sports.