Nebraska’s Catholic bishops are actively opposing a state education association’s draft policy aimed at protecting transgender athletes in the state’s high schools. And instead, they are supporting an anti-trans proposal offered by Catholic schools in the state.
The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) is currently considering three trans-related policy proposals, one which would be a policy implemented by the NSAA board, and two others, proposed by member schools, which would be by-law changes .
The NSAA board will vote on the first policy on January 14th. This policy would “put the initial decision [about gender identity issues]. . .in the hands of parents and local school districts.” If questions arose, an NSAA “gender identity eligibility committee” could review a student’s request and require documentation of at least one year of hormone therapy or gender-confirming surgery.
Each side of the debate in Nebraska has criticized this draft policy. Natalie Weiss of the Nebraska Trans Community told the Journal Star she thinks the policy is incoherent and unfair to trans students. A single vote on any such committee could deny a trans applicant access to high school athletics; religious schools could simply deny transgender athletes. All transgender students would beforced to use either private locker rooms and bathrooms or those matching their assigned sex at birth. Danielle Conrad, executive director of ACLU of Nebraska, said any policies which disregard gender identity as a civil rights issue are legally questionable.
Nebraska Catholic schools announced a second proposal in response to this first draft policy. Known as the “at birth proposal,” this bylaw change would define athletic participation according to assigned sex at birth. It is supported by the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), the state bishops’ policy arm.
A third proposal amends the “at birth” proposal to allow for “birth certificates legally altered to reflect gender change after surgery,” according to the Lincoln Journal Star. This third proposal, coming from schools friendlier to trans concerns, would allow athletic participation only to those trans students whose legal documentation corresponds with their gender identity.
NCC is urging Catholics in the state to support the “at birth” proposal by contacting educational officials. They oppose the first and third options. A joint statement in December from Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, and Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island called even minimally trans-inclusive policies “unjust” and said they would “allow a harmful and deceptive gender ideology” into the state’s schools, both public and private. NCC Policy Director Sheri Rickert said gender identity issues are “really a rejection of God,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.
The current discussion was prompted by two transgender high school students near Omaha who expressed interest in athletic participation. If the first draft policy is approved by the NSAA board, it would be immediately effective, but it could then be overturned if the bylaws are change in April. Regional votes on the second two proposals, which are bylaw changes, will be held on January 6th and 13th, reported the Lincoln Journal Star. Three of six NSAA districts must approve a bylaw change for it to be then considered during the Association’s general assembly in April, where it would need a two-thirds vote to be formally approved. If neither the “at birth” proposal nor its modified form receive approval by three of six NSAA districts this January, then they will be shelved. District VI voted last Wednesday in favor of the “at birth” proposal backed by church leaders.
Transgender students in Nebraska deserve to have their gender identity respected, and should be allowed to participate in athletics according to their identity. Catholic principles of justice, human dignity, and equality mandate that Catholics support policies which advance the good of LGBT students rather than diminish their identities, as the “at birth” proposal does.
Catholics, particularly Nebraskans, can contact NSAA representatives in the coming week to oppose the “at-birth proposal” and demand policies which protect transgender students. To take action, fill out the form below. For a sample message, which you can copy and paste into the ‘Message’ box, see below a sample letter based upon a message sent by Nebraskan Catholic and former NSAA participant John Noble.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
Dear NSAA Member,
I am writing you today as a Catholic opposed to the “sex at birth” bylaw proposal currently before the NSAA. This proposal disrespects the dignity of transgender Nebraskan students and would bar their participation across the state.
As a Catholic, I believe in the life and dignity of all persons, including our transgender siblings. This proposal disrespects these fundamental tenets of Catholicism by denying transgender students’ life and dignity, opting instead to let fear help creater unsafe environments for such students.
Please oppose the “sex at birth” bylaw proposal and support the Gender Participation Policy. The safety and dignity of transgender Nebraskans depend upon your support.