A Catholic official in Minnesota has described a transgender education guide as the “radical exaltation of a dictatorship of the subjective self.”
Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, harshly criticized the state education department’s “best practices” guide for supporting transgender and gender non-conforming students in public schools. When he testified to a legislative committee which would approve the guide, Adkins said the initiative was “another example of the ongoing evisceration of the purpose of education,” reported The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper of St. Paul. He added:
“The truth is that this toolkit fits neatly into a world of alternative facts, fake news, climate change denial and trigger warnings. . .Science matters only when it serves an ideology. As a result, our public school system and its leaders have contributed greatly to the decline in civil discourse and a denuded public culture, where the loudest, most powerful voices — not the truth — win; this toolkit is just its most recent and radical exaltation of a dictatorship of the subjective self.”
Adkins said the guide would punish those people who hold dissenting views on trans issues, in what was “a modern version of the tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes'” But the state’s Department of Education has been clear the guide is merely a resource that aims to develop safe school environments, not a binding document.
Disputes over transgender policies in schools are increasing, and Catholics are right in the middle of them. Adkins and Minnesota’s bishops whom he represents are pushing a trans-negative agenda despite there being no formal church teaching about gender identity on which to base their objections. The narrative they propose, however, is being pushed by other church leaders as well. This push includes Pope Francis, who has said in an interview that he heard children were being told in schools that they could choose their gender.
Adkins’ most recent statements are not just misguided. They are harmful. Such rhetoric leads to anti-trans actions. A Catholic high school in New Jersey rejected a transgender student last fall, and performances of educational play about gender identity were cancelled by Catholic schools in Ontario, Canada. It took a trans student being shot with a BB gun before one Catholic school in England took action to create a safe environment.
Some Catholics, however, are taking a more positive approach to trans issues. An English Catholic school apologized to a trans student before offering her greater accommodations when it comes to restrooms and uniforms. In India, Carmelite sisters helped found a school for trans youth who had dropped out of the education system for various reasons.
Theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale drives to the heart of these two contrasting Catholic paths when he wrote:
“And there lies a major challenge that transgender people endure and that the faith community has to own: the human tendency to be uncomfortable and fearful in the face of what we don’t understand. It’s easier to ridicule and attack individuals we don’t understand than to summon the patience and humility to listen and to learn.”
Judging from Adkins’ remarks, he still has a lot to learn about trans people and gender identity. If he had been more aware of the reality of trans lives, its doubtful he would have used the language of “fake news” and “dictatorship,” or have criticized a guide to keep vulnerable trans students safe.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 23, 2017