For Catholic Schools Week, Proposing a Simple Change that Could Save Transgender Lives

This week is Catholic Schools Week, a time set aside to celebrate church-sponsored education. We can also make it a time to reflect on the status of LGBT inclusion in these schools and institutions.

In 2019, Catholic educators should consider one simple step which could make a great impact towards the safety and flourishing of their transgender/gender non-conforming students.

A new study from the peer-reviewed Journal of Adolescent Health has found that using the name by which a trans person knows themselves significantly curtails the chance that the person will die by suicide. LGBTQ Nation reported:

“Researchers used a sample of 129 transgender and gender nonconforming youth from three U.S. cities , assessing their name usage among home, school, work, and friends. They then compared it to depression as well as suicidal ideation and behavior.

“The results were at once both astounding and unsurprising: when compared to those who are not able to use their own name in any situation, researchers found 71% fewer indications of severe depression.

“What’s more, they also found that thoughts of suicide dropped by 35%, and a 65% decrease in attempted suicide.”

The impact of these findings is compounded in light of the high rates of trans people who attempt or die by suicide.

A 2014 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law found that 41% of trans people surveyed had attempted suicide at least once. But these numbers spike sharply if respondents reported bullying and harassment as youth and adolescents. In elementary school, 50% of respondents who say they were bullied attempted suicide. The number of those who reported physical and sexual assault was 63% and 73%, respectively. The numbers remain relatively static for respondents who experience such abuse in middle and high school.

Another study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is even more alarming: nearly 35% of the roughly 131,000 trans students surveyed attempted suicide in the last year. That’s 46,000 young people from this study alone. Estimates of how many U.S. youth identify as trans range from 0.7% to just below 3%, reported NewNowNext.

Taken together, these studies reveal not only a crisis among hundreds of thousands of trans students, but an opportunity to make a real difference through a simple change. At least one school has already begun using students’ preferred pronouns. Marian Doyle, headteacher of Sacred Heart High School outside London explained that this decision recognizes a student’s “intent to live as the person they believe God created them to be” and is “refraining from any judgement” on the part of classmates or staff. The Edmonton Catholic School Board in Alberta, Canada has also recommended that students be addressed by their preferred name and pronouns.

Nothing in Church teaching speaks to how a person should be addressed in terms of their name and/or pronouns, but Church teaching does address every person as lovingly made imago Dei. If Catholic educators are truly concerned with the safety and flourishing of every one of their students, they will move quickly to begin using the names and pronouns with which the student identifies, rather than what may be on school and legal records.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 30, 2018

2 replies
  1. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Thanks for writing this Robert.
    Many Catholic school boards in Ontario fail to have Trans accommodation guidelines on the books and tend to decide on a case by case basis. Typically, this results in responding when in crisis as opposed to proactively establishing safer learning environments for Trans and LGBQ students that set up success for all.

  2. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Our child’s former Catholic school made it school policy NOT to use his name/pronouns AFTER making us believe we had their support. Teachers and faculty who would have been supported were specifically instructed that they could not use his name. They also gave the most vile presentation informing faculty that trans people are gnostic heretics and mentally ill.

    I can no longer refer to the pastor as “Father”.


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