Colorado Springs, Colo. (July 14, 2023)—USA Ultimate announced today the appointment of four individuals to its newly formed LGBTQ+ Advisory Council.
The council, which will serve as a sounding board for ideas on how to best support LGBTQ+ members of the ultimate community, is an expansion of USA Ultimate’s community liaison program and focuses on three initial priorities: support and inclusion for LGBTQ+ athletes, coaches, and other community members; education for coaches, observers, organizers and staff; and divisional inclusion and alignment with an emphasis on the mixed division.
Previously, USA Ultimate’s community liaisons provided input on a variety of areas, including pronouns and gender identity options in member accounts, the organization’s current Gender Inclusion Policy, LGBTQ+ inclusion and support at events, education resources for coaches and organizers and more.
As part of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council, members will meet regularly with USA Ultimate DEI team leadership to review and provide feedback on programs and projects that are focused on supporting and retaining LGBTQ+ members and share areas of concern affecting LGBTQ+ members.
The appointed members of the council include Zan Derby-Wright, Jy Francis, Soju Hokari and Jack Verzuh.
Derby-Wright has been a member of the ultimate community for 27 years after a teacher’s excuse to talk about the physics of motion in seventh-grade science class turned into a lifelong love for the sport and community. Throughout their career, Derby-Wright has played at the college, club and masters levels, almost exclusively in the mixed division.
“Mixed has always attracted me because it gave me the opportunity to be seen as something other than my assigned gender at birth,” commented Derby-Wright. “Ultimate gave me a place to be seen as just an athlete. I have never felt more authentic than when I am on the ultimate field.”
Derby-Wright has also coached middle school and high school players where they say coaching gives them space to not only pass on their knowledge and love for the game and community, but to be a voice and an advocate for all the players that step onto the field. Discussions of gender and equity, space for introductions – including pronouns – and how values become part of the understanding of Spirit of the Game were all topics of emphasis at practice.
“It’s an honor to join USA Ultimate’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Council and bring a grand master’s voice to the table and be a part of the conversation that will help shape our organization for my children who have found their own love for a community that does not assign worth based on gender, rather the passion and joy we all bring to the field.”
Francis is excited to join the council and leverage their expertise and knowledge of ultimate to advocate for equity and inclusion within the sport. Francis brings extensive experience as a competitive player since 2007 and as a coach for seven years across various levels and gender divisions. They played at Oberlin College before going on to coach teams in New York and Philadelphia, including Fieldston (high school), Swarthmore College and mixed club team ColorBomb.
Francis has actively encouraged their leagues and communities to adopt more inclusive structures beyond the gender binary, aiming to create a welcoming environment for trans and nonbinary athletes. Their efforts include introducing a 3-3-1 mixed gender ratio, normalizing inclusive language and expanding gender matching options in registration and for on-field designations.
Off the field, Francis enjoys tabletop games with friends and cherishes quality time with pets. Their professional background as an engineer and data consultant brings a valuable perspective to their coaching, which they apply to game intelligence and strategic development.
As a member of the council, they hope to provide a voice that represents other queer athletes who feel marginalized by the existing structures in sport and are eager to contribute to the council’s efforts in fostering a more inclusive and celebratory environment for all players.
Hokari is a queer Japanese American ultimate player from Eugene, Ore. She has played for and captained South Eugene High School’s gender diverse team, U-20 YCC National Champion Oregon Downpour and Emory Gender Expansive and Women’s Ultimate. Currently, she is in her third year of playing for Atlanta Ozone in the club division. Outside of ultimate, Hokari is studying women’s gender and sexuality studies and quantitative sciences at Emory University in Atlanta.
Verzuh is from Seattle, where he started playing ultimate when he was 11 years old. He has since played nationally and internationally at the highest levels of the sport. The 2019 Callahan Award winner captured back-to-back national titles with Dartmouth in 2017 and 2018 and world titles with Team USA at the 2014 Junior World Championships and 2018 U-24 World Championships. Verzuh has also coached middle school, high school and club ultimate and currently plays for Seattle BFG in the mixed division.