A visit by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to a Catholic school has highlighted diocesan policies that ban transgender students and employees who receive gender confirming surgery or related healthcare.
DeVos visited Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School in Pennsylvania as part of her “back to school” tour touting a federal proposal to expand school choice, reported PennLive. But observers and the media focused less on tax policy and more on the Diocese of Harrisburg’s policy against transgender students. That policy on gender identity, adopted in January 2015, reads, in part:
“The policy on gender identity distinguishes between two different conditions (1) where a child is born with sexually ambiguous genitalia and (2) where the gender identity question is psychological in origin.
“In the first instance, where the sex of a child may be indeterminate at birth, one requiring time and medical testing before establishing an existing or dominant sex, it is common pastoral practice to collaborate with parents and medical professionals as they try to make a prudential determination on their child’s actual biological sex.
“This policy addresses the circumstances where there is a clear biological determination of a person’s sex and subsequent efforts to chemically and/or surgically alter the given biology. This is understood in Catholic moral terms as self-mutilation and therefore immoral. To attempt to make accommodations for such persons would be to cooperate in the immoral action and impose an unacceptable burden on others in the school community.
“When parents enroll a child in a Catholic school in the diocese they agree that they will not publically act in opposition to Catholic teaching. Notification of a student’s determination to undergo a sex change procedure or that a student has undergone the procedure (condition #2 as described above) would violate that agreement. The student would be ineligible to attend or remain in attendance in a Catholic school.”
A separate policy from January 2015 addresses transgender employees. Again, the policy refers to situations where there has been “a clear biological determination of a person’s sex and subsequent efforts to chemically and/or surgically alter the given biology.” The policy then explained:
“Employment shall not be offered to any person who is in the process of undergoing a sex change procedure or has had a sex change procedure. In the case of a current employee who undertakes or has undertaken such a procedure, employment would be terminated.”
A “morality clause” in other policies for diocesan employment prohibits church workers from being in same-gender relationships, in particular marriages. The Diocese’s full employment policies can be found here.
Neither DeVos and the Department of Education nor Catholic officials would comment on the diocesan policies, reported NBC News. LGBTQ and youth advocates opined against DeVos’ visit and questioned education policies that allow private schools discriminating against LGBTQ people to receive public funding:
“Eliza Byard, the executive director of the LGBTQ education nonprofit GLSEN, said by using the Harrisburg school as the setting for Thursday’s roundtable, DeVos is ‘lifting up the school and sending a discouraging and dangerous message.’
” ‘It’s difficult to say whether this decision was one of sheer incompetence, but given DeVos’ track record to direct funds to schools that discrimination, it appears a deliberate decision to champion a school with an anti-trans policy,’ Byard told NBC News.
“Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who serves as the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, has called for DeVos either to be fired or to resign over her recent school visit.
” ‘The Department of Education is responsible for ALL students. Why are you on a constant crusade against our #LGBTQ students & teachers?’ Clark wrote on Twitter, adding the hashtags #FireDevos and #ResignDevos.”
Jason Landau Goodman, who heads the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, said public funding for discriminatory schools was unjust and state legislators needed to “take action to ensure nondiscrimination protections attach wherever government funding is used.”
As a member of the Trump administration, DeVos has been regularly criticized for her LGBTQ-negative policies and actions as the nation’s top educational official, some of which have been supported by U.S. church leaders. In 2017, the Trump administration withdrew non-discrimination guidelines for schools aimed at protecting transgender youth. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, acting as leaders for the U.S. bishops conference, said they were “grateful” the guidelines, once described by two other bishops as “deeply disturbing,” were revoked.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 27, 2019