Catholic officials in Nebraska balked at state education officials’ newly approved policy on transgender athletes, and they called attention to a church-proposed by-law change that would determine participation by a student’s assigned sex at birth.
On Thursday, the Nebraska School Activities Association Board of Directors approved, by a vote of 6-2, a policy that allows transgender high school students to play sports according to their gender identity. Evidence would be required of hormone therapy or gender confirming surgery to be reviewed by a state-level gender-eligibility committee, reported Omaha.com. LGBT advocates criticized the policy for creating a “rigorous and expensive process” and the ACLU warned it may violate federal non-discrimination law.
Regarding Catholic schools ability to exempt themselves from the policy, Omaha.com explained:
“Under the policy adopted by the NSAA board Thursday, a local school would determine whether to seek state permission for a transgender student to participate. That means that a parochial school with objections to transgender participation could decide not to forward an application to the NSAA. It would also mean that the local school would be the primary target for any litigation.”
Catholic leaders prefer the “at birth” bylaw change, which would override the Board’s policy if approved. This past week four of six regional NSAA districts voted for the “at birth” proposal, meaning it will considered in April by the Association’s Representative Assembly. It needs three-fifths approval from the 51 members to be implemented.
Opposition to any policy which would support and protect trans students is seemingly rooted in misunderstanding, even ignorance, of gender identity. A letter to the editor by Lincoln’s Bishop James Conley claimed any criteria besides assigned sex allows students to identify by a “gender identity of their own choosing.” He promoted the vicious myth that allowing trans people to use restrooms or locker rooms according to their gender identity is unsafe for others. He mentioned “respect, understanding, and compassion” for trans people–a phrase which is often used in relationship to lesbian and gay people.
Earlier this week, I recommended that the church not accept simple answers on these complex matters. Bishop Conley’s line of thought, however, is a simple, reductionist critique of gender identity. His views do not engage the lived experience of trans communities, including Catholics, or to consider modern knowledge which contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of gender identity.
Each of the policies currently considered by the NSAA would leave trans students and Nebraska school athletics in a troubling uncertainty. If the “at birth proposal” loses in April, the Board’s flawed but marginally better policy would become permanent (barring legal challenges). If the “at birth” proposal advocated by church leaders succeeds, trans students will be further discriminated against and marginalized, in part, because of Catholics actions. All students in Nebraska’s schools, public and Catholic alike, deserve better policies than those proscribed by uninformed clerics and their staffs.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry