A trans facilitator for the National Collegiate Athletic Association has resigned after the organization’s Board of Governors changed its policy to pass the responsibility for transgender student athlete eligibility to individual sport governing bodies.
Dorian Rhea Debussy, who is nonbinary/transfeminine and uses they/them pronouns, withdrew from their role as a volunteer facilitator with an NCAA inclusivity program called LGBTQ OneTeam on Monday.
Debussy complained that the NCAA’s decision, announced last week, to defer to each sport’s governing body to determine whether transgender athletes will be permitted to compete as the gender they identify passes the buck and responsibility for supporting trans athletes.
‘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 wrote in a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert.
‘As a non-binary, trans-feminine person, I can no longer, in good conscience, maintain my affiliation with the NCAA,’ Debussy continues in the letter, which was published publicly by the advocacy organization Athlete Ally.
The NCAA’s new policy contrasts the organization’s previous, decade-long policy that allowed transgender athletes to compete with their biological counterparts after undergoing a year of hormone suppression treatment.
The move came after mounting pressure following the success of transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who just won the Women’s 100m and Women’s 200m Freestyle races at an NCAA swimming meet with Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts.
Dorian Rhea Debussy, an NCAA facilitator, has resigned following the organization’s update on its transgender eligibility policy
The NCAA’s policy change came after mounting pressure following the success of transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas. She is seen above competing in the 200 meter freestyle during an NCAA college swimming meet with Harvard on Saturday
The NCAA has been a champion of LGBTQ inclusion in sports for decades and has ‘taken an increasingly stronger stance in support of gender diverse student-athletes’ until recently, Debussy writes in their resignation letter.
Debussy is an associate director for diversity, equity and inclusion at Division III Kenyon College. As a facilitator with the NCAA’s LGBTQ OneTeam, Debussy trained college staff and students on diversity and inclusion practices.
The program, which includes 54 facilitators, is the first of its kind for LGBTQ athletes and began in spring 2019.
The NCAA has previously fought for inclusivity and publicly condemned legislation seeking to limit LGBTQ rights, Debussy says. After North Carolina passed its controversial ‘bathroom bill’ in 2016, which mandated that transgender people must use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological sex, the NCAA pulled seven championships from the state.
‘However, their steadfast opposition to anti-LGBTQ+—and especially anti-trans—legislation appears to have waned in recent years,’ Debussy wrote.
For example, they continued, last year the NCAA awarded championship tournaments to a number of states last year that passed legislation limiting transgender students from participating in sports as the gender the identify.
At the time, Debussy led 38 OneTeam members in writing a letter asking the NCAA to condemn such legislation.
‘Like the Olympics, the updated NCAA policy calls for transgender participation for each sport to be determined by the policy for the national governing body of that sport,’ the NCAA wrote in a press release announcing the update.
However, the NCAA policy still requires transgender students to document their testosterone levels while the IOC’s new policy does not focus on testosterone levels as a means of eligibility criteria.
‘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,’ Debussy wrote.
Under the policy change, however, Thomas will still be permitted to compete in the Division I women’s swimming championships this March. Thomas, right, is above drying off after warming up with the team before the NCAA college swimming meet with Harvard
Thomas, center, is above competing against Harvard’s Erin Cavanagh, left, and Harvard’s Felici Passadyn at the start of the women’s 200 meter freestyle race during the an NCAA college swimming meet
‘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,’ they continued.
The NCAA made its policy change – which will begin with the winter championships – after growing backlash following the record-breaking success of Lia Thomas. Despite the changes, Thomas will still be permitted to compete in the Division I Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships on March 16 to 19 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
‘Based on the new NCAA policy put out on Wednesday, there is nothing that would preclude Lia from racing in March at the NCAA Championships. There is a framework, some guidance, but nothing that anybody would recognize as a line-in-the-sand threshold,’ Braden Keith, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of SwimSwam, told Fox News last Thursday.
Penn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas speaks to her coach after winning the 200 meter freestyle during an NCAA college swimming meet with Harvard on Saturday
Transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, 22, won two of her races on Saturday although her win’s were by narrower margins than of late
‘The internal pressure within the sport in the last 24 hours has ramped up on USA Swimming and FINA to make a decision, to come up with a rule or a threshold, and it’s left them in kind of a tough spot — they’ve had this responsibility, the duty to decide what the NCAA rule is, thrust upon them, when I’m sure they were hoping to be able to kick the can down the road a little while longer.’
With NCAA taking little decisive action, on Thursday USA Swimming announced it will release a new policy ‘shortly’ on whether elite trans athletes like Ivy League swimmer Thomas can compete against biological women.
The organization, which oversees more than 360,000 members, released a statement Thursday after the NCAA Board of Governors said they will update their guidelines to follow the wishes of each sport’s governing body.
‘USA Swimming firmly believes in inclusivity and the opportunity for all athletes to experience the sport of swimming in a manner consistent with their gender identity and expression,’ the statement read.
‘We also strongly believe in competitive equity, and, like many, are doing our best to learn and educate ourselves on the appropriate balance in this space.’
The Ivy League and UPenn both offered support for Thomas and vowed to work with the NCAA regarding her participation for the championships.
‘Penn Athletics is aware of the NCAA’s new transgender participation policy. In support of our student-athlete, Lia Thomas, we will work with the NCAA regarding her participation under the newly adopted standards for the 2022 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship,’ Penn Athletics said in a statement obtained by Fox News.
‘The Ivy League is aware of yesterday’s NCAA Board of Governors’ decision to update its transgender policies beginning with the 2022 NCAA Winter Championships,’ the Ivy League said in a statement seen by Fox News.
‘The league will work with the University of Pennsylvania and its other member institutions to determine the mid-year eligibility impact to any of its transgender student-athletes who might be affected by this decision and will provide an update when appropriate,’ it continued.
Thomas was back in the pool on Saturday, competing during an NCAA college swimming meet with Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. There, she won the Women’s 100m and Women’s 200m Freestyle races, although the margin’s were far narrower than in previous races she won in 2021.
Thomas won her 100m race in 50.55 seconds with her closest competitor coming in at 51.51.
In the 200m race, she won in 1:47.08 with the second place being secured in 1:48.44.
NCAA rules on transgender athletes returned to the forefront when Thomas started smashing records late last year.
She was on the UPenn men’s team during her first three years, but she is now competing on the women’s team this season after transitioning.
Last month, Thomas put in an astounding performance at the Zippy Invitational Event in Akron, Ohio, that saw her finish the 1,650-yard freestyle 38 seconds ahead of the next closest finisher, teammate Anna Sofia Kalandaze.
Thomas’s winning time was 15:59:71, with her UPenn teammate Anna Kalandaze coming second with a time of 16:37:44.
Thomas’s win was a record for the Zippy Meet, and the pool where the event took place. But she also managed to smash two US women’s swimming records during earlier races at the same event.
The first US record was broken on December 3, when Thomas won the 500-meter freestyle with a time of 4:34:06. She raced to victory 14 seconds ahead of Kalandaze – the swimmer she beat by 38 seconds on Sunday.
The following Saturday, she won the 200-meter freestyle in 1:41:93 – seven seconds ahead of her nearest rival, giving her the fastest female US time ever for that race too.
Lia Thomas, circled, is pictured in a post by UPenn Swimming and Diving, captioned: ‘Ladies at the beach’
Pictured: Thomas training with the team at Sailfish Splash Waterpark in Florida earlier this month
Currently, trans women can compete against any other female athlete if they’ve undergone suppression treatment for a year. But critics say that is insufficient – as evidenced by spectacular wins such as Thomas’s – and that trans athletes retain considerable advantages over female rivals because of their height and musculature.
Thomas has been blowing women’s swimming records out of the water and there is even a chance she might win national championships and even compete for all-time NCAA records set by Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky.
None of Thomas’ fellow swimmers have voiced their opinion publicly on the matter, but some have spoken out anonymously to air their concerns, saying that Thomas is arrogant, her teammates are upset – and that their coach is just obsessed with winning.
‘She compares herself to Jackie Robinson. She said she is like the Jackie Robinson of trans sports,’ one of Thomas’ teammates told the Washington Examiner. Robinson was the first black baseball player to compete in the Major League.
‘She laughs about it and mocks the situation. Instead of caring or showing that she cares about what she’s doing or what she’s doing to her teammates, she’s not sympathetic or empathetic at all. Lia never addressed our team. She never asked if it was OK. She never asked how we felt. She never tried to explain how she feels. She never has said anything to us as a group. She never addressed anything.’
Despite setting three school records and two national records, Thomas shrugged off the furor in a recent interview, telling swimming news site SwimSwam: ‘It’s not healthy for me to read it and engage with it at all, and so I don’t, and that’s all I’ll say on that.’
Her teammates have been less accepting of Thomas’s post-transition feats, however. Days after the Zippy International, two swimmers complained anonymously to the media about a ‘lack of fairness’.
‘They’re having to go behind the blocks knowing no matter what, they do not have the chance to win. I think that it’s really getting to everyone,’ one told OutKick.
Last week, Thomas, pictured, was crushed twice in a women’s swim meet by another transgender competitor who is transitioning from female to male
Thomas came out as transgender in 2019 and under NCAA rules was eligible to switch from the men’s team to the women’s after taking a year of testosterone suppressants
Caitlyn Jenner has said the ‘woke world’ is not working for women’s sports and is calling on the NCAA to adjust their transgender policy for sports
Earlier this week, Caitlyn Jenner called on the NCAA to immediately stop transgender athletes like Thomas from competing against their biological counterparts.
Jenner, 72, said Wednesday there was no doubt in her mind that the rules needed to be changed.
‘All of this woke world that we are living in right now is not working,’ said Jenner, who won a gold medal as Bruce in the men’s decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics before transitioning to female in 2015.
‘I feel sorry for the other athletes that are out there, especially at Penn or anybody she’s competing against, because in the woke world, you’ve got to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is great,’ No, it’s not.’
Writing on Twitter, Jenner stated explicitly ‘biological boys should not compete against biological boys.
She then went on Fox News stating: ‘We need to protect women’s sports, and the NCAA needs to make the right decision tomorrow, and I think that’s probably to stop this right now, rethink it.’
Last week, champion swimmer Michael Phelps described the controversy as being ‘very complicated’ – before adding that sports need a ‘level playing field’ to be fair.
Phelps, the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals, compared the issue of athletes like Thomas to doping in order to secure a competitive advantage in the pool.
Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps, 36, has reacted to the ongoing debate over trans college athlete Lia Thomas competing on women’s swim team
Speaking to CNN, Phelps was adamant that something needed to be done about current NCAA guidelines that allow Thomas to compete against swimmers born female – but was unable to share any specific ideas.
‘I think this leads back to the organizing committees again because it has to be a level playing field. That’s something that we all need. Because that’s what sports are. For me, I don’t know where this is going to go. I don’t know what’s going to happen.’
Following Phelp’s statement, many took to social media to call him a hypocrite because he was born with features that advantage him as a swimmer such as an exponentially larger wingspan than most people, double-jointed ankles, bigger lung capacity and flipper-like legs.
His body also produces half the average amount of lactic acid during exercise, meaning he experiences fatigue half as others.
Phelps, who also holds the all-time record for Olympic gold medals at 13, said he simply wants to see a fairness across the sport.
‘I believe that we all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin, but I think sports should all be played on an even playing field,’ he said.
‘I don’t know what it looks like in the future. It’s hard. It’s very complicated and this is my sport, this has been my sport my whole entire career, and honestly the one thing I would love is everybody being able to compete on an even playing field.’