Rhea Debussy, Ph.D. (she/her) is the inaugural Director of External Affairs at Equitas Health, which is a federally designated community health center and one of the largest LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS serving healthcare organizations in the country. In her role at Equitas Health, Rhea is responsible for setting the government and community relations agenda for the agency. In doing so, she manages the organization’s public policy priorities; mobilizes community stakeholders to advance access to health and wellness services; cultivates strategic community partnerships across the state and beyond; and determines the organization’s legislative advocacy strategy at local, state-wide, and national levels.
Prior to joining Equitas Health in June 2022, Rhea enjoyed a decade of service in higher education, which began in public university settings in Connecticut. Most recently, she jointly served as the Associate Director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Kenyon College—where she specialized in fostering LGBTQ+ inclusion and equity on campus—and as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Kenyon College—where she designed and regularly taught the college’s first permanent queer studies course. For two years, Rhea also concurrently served as the founding Executive Director of the Ace and Aro Alliance of Central Ohio, which is the state’s first organization focused upon serving the asexual and aromantic community.
A graduate of the Dept. of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, Rhea’s doctoral work focused on the histories of LGBTQ exclusion from the military and intelligence communities. She actively writes about issues affecting LGBTQ people in the military and LGBTQ+ politics more broadly. Most recently, Rhea served as the lead author for the newly updated and expanded third edition of Freedom to Serve: The Definitive Guide to LGBTQ Military Service (forthcoming; Washington, D.C.: Modern Military Association of America), which is the most comprehensive guidebook on issues affecting LGBTQ service members across all branches of the military. Given the important nature of this work and the status of this guidebook, an advance copy of this text was requested by the Biden Presidential Transition Team in December 2020.
As a scholar of LGBTQ+ politics and policy, Rhea also regularly presents at regional, national, and international LGBTQ+ conferences. In fall 2020, she presented at the Equitas Health Institute’s Transforming Care Conference, where she was also recognized with the Community Advocate Award. Rhea, who is a member of the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH), also presented at WPATH’s 26th Annual Scientific Symposium, which is the world’s largest conference on transgender health. In summer 2022, she will be presenting an advocacy workshop at Stonewall Sports’ 8th Annual National Tournament and Summit, which is one of the largest LGBTQ+ focused athletic events in the country.
Passionate about accessible academic writing, Rhea frequently publishes non-academic articles on LGBTQ+ political issues. Her work has been published by The Conversation, The Associated Press, BUST Magazine, and The Gay & Lesbian Review among others. Her most recent article for The Conversation, which was also circulated by The Associated Press, garnered over 20,000 readers, and it was translated for international circulation throughout Japan. Additionally, her forthcoming book project is currently under contract with Columbia University Press.
As a nationally recognized advocate for trans-inclusive athletic spaces, Rhea was selected for the inaugural cohort of the NCAA’s Division III LGBTQ OneTeam Program, which is the organization’s first nationwide LGBTQ+ inclusion program. For nearly three years, she served as one of less than 55 facilitators across the country, and she facilitated trainings for hundreds of coaches, athletics administrators, DEI professionals, fellow facilitators, and student-athletes across multiple colleges and states during that time. In January 2022, she resigned in protest from that role, following changes to the NCAA’s transgender participation policy.
In addition to her role with Equitas Health, Rhea also currently serves as a Lecturer in the Dept. of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at The Ohio State University at Newark, where she teaches courses about the LGBTQ+ community; a member of the Greater Columbus LGBTQ Health Coalition, which is a community-led working group that is focused on improving health outcomes for LGBTQ+ people living and working in Columbus, Ohio; a member of the Advisory Board for the TGX360 Initiative of the OUT Georgia Business Alliance, which is Georgia’s first transgender-focused economic empowerment initiative; and an organizational representative to the Public Policy Council of AIDS United, which is a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.
Previously, she served as a Lecturer in the Dept. of Political Science at The Ohio State University at Newark, where she taught courses on international relations; she also previously served as both the Vice President for the Board of Directors and the Acting Operational Director of the Newark Ohio Pride Coalition, which coordinates a local pride festival of roughly 1,500 annual attendees.