Controversial transgender policy at martial arts school under fire: Biological pronouns, 'no exceptions'

Davina <span class="s3">Jade Coulombe says that a policy at Vortex Sports Academy, a Texas martial arts center, is discriminatory. (Photo: <span>Amber Lynn McCray)</span></span>
Davina Jade Coulombe says that a policy at Vortex Sports Academy, a Texas martial arts center, is discriminatory. (Photo: Amber Lynn McCray)

The owner of a martial arts academy who claims to run an “inclusive” business is defending a controversial policy about transgender customers after his explosive text messages went viral.

The Sept. 7 messages between Scott Maczuga, the owner of Vortex Sports Academy in Leander, Texas, and Davina Jade Coulombe, a transgender woman and friend of Maczuga, detailed an incident in which Maczuga rebuffed Coulombe’s request to help out at an event at the facility, where her teenage son trains.

“Hey there. Just wanted to clarify a few things. First, we had some trouble with several young people wanting to be transgender at Vortex a little over a year ago,” wrote Maczuga in the text. “It created quite an uproar as it confused kids, pissed off many parents, and I was forced to address it as a business owner. The policy that we put in place is that when at Vortex or Vortex events, people would be referred to by whatever they were biologically — no exceptions.”

Adding that it wouldn’t be appropriate for any parent to help at the event, Maczuga explained that Coulombe’s presence would have “created a whole new challenge” if she had requested to be referred to by anything other than “Mr. Coulombe.” He continues, “I like you as a person and although I do not agree with your choice, it’s your life and I will respect it outside of Vortex.”

When Coulombe responded that she was not comfortable with the title “Mr.” and that her driver’s license and Social Security card both show her name as “Davina Jade,” Maczuga responded, “I am not playing the transgender game” and launched into expletives.

“Last year, one of our students rebuked an instructor who referred to her as ‘ma’am,'” Maczuga, a father of five, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The girl said, ‘You won’t refer to me as ma’am — I am gender-neutral.’ A lot of parents were upset that their children were exposed to that kind of language in class, so we wanted to respect their rights.”

Vortex’s official policy, as emailed to Yahoo Lifestyle, states, “Vortex Sports Academy is an inclusive organization where everyone is welcome whether you are straight or LGBTQ. But when attending Vortex or Vortex events, everyone will be referred to by their biological pronoun, not what they choose to identify as.”

Maczuga says Coulombe was aware of the policy, since the pair had been friends for a decade, despite their opposing belief systems. However, Coulombe, who tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she has been transgender since the age of 8, was hesitant to be fully transparent with Maczuga until she came out on Facebook two years ago. “Afterward, he tried to convert me, saying how high the suicide rate was for transgender people,” says Coulombe, who is also a parent of five. She adds, “Our relationship has deteriorated since.”

After Coulombe posted screenshots of the exchange on her Facebook page, Maczuga experienced a backlash on the company’s Yelp page, which now holds a two-star rating; on it, the company has been slammed, and Maczuga has received death threats. “Maybe I should not have written those things — it got rough at the end — but there was a phone call in between the texts which escalated the texts,” he says.

The policy has also caused arguments on Twitter.

Commenters were divided on the issue. Alpha Wolf Sean B wrote: “I don’t agree with him but it’s a business and he has the right to do that unfortunately,” adding that it’s “just like the case with the Christian bakers. Simply people who want to go there will go there and if you don’t then don’t go.”

AlbelValentine posted, “I’m really getting tired of this shit… so wrong so ignorant and so unprofessional.”

According to one Twitter user, Maczuga also expelled the family of one student who criticized his business on social media.

Making the situation more contentious is the fact that Coulombe’s son, with whom she shares custody with her ex-wife, is a Vortex member. The future of their friendship is in doubt. “Clearly, there is no place for our friendship at this point,” says Maczuga. “I have worked hard to forgive her and wish her the best of luck.”

Coulombe says of Maczuga: “I still care about and love him. … I would like to be friends. Threats were made, but I know they were made from anger. But it will be hard for him to change his mind and his policy. And kids will be hurt by this.”

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