Bishops in Minnesota have adopted anti-transgender policies for Catholic schools in their dioceses that will continue to marginalize and harm the well-being of transgender students.
In guidelines adopted last year, the bishops of Minnesota set forth principles to govern the policies on gender identity of all Catholic schools in the state. The bishops claim that in setting out these guiding principles, they intend to affirm the “God-given irrevocable dignity of every human person.” The list of governing principles, however, have limited theological understandings of God and flawed scientific, biological, and psychological understanding of sex and gender. They also ignore the lived experience of trans and non-binary people.
In “Guiding Principles for Catholic Schools and Religious Education Concerning Human Sexuality and Sexual Identity,” the Minnesota bishops base a significant portion of their argument on the Genesis creation stories, arguing that God only creates males and females. Any “sexual identity,” they argue, must be in congruence with one’s sex assigned at birth. According to the “Definitions” set forth in the Minnesota bishops’ document, to have a gender identity that does not match assigned sex is not only impossible, but it is a betrayal of “the inner unity and reality of the human person made body and soul in the image and likeness of God.”
More troubling than these foundational definitions are the proposed applications of these theological principles. The bishops restrict the use of pronouns by students to those that match their assigned sex. Students are restricted to use only facilities and participate only in extracurricular activities that are based on their assigned sex. The bishops forbid any expression of one’s gender that does not match one’s assigned sex, claiming that such an expression “causes disruption or confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.”
Two affirmations are particularly troubling for both trans students and their allies. While the document offers the assurance that all students and families deserve respect and charity, the bishops also say that interactions with students should be marked with “the truth about human dignity and God’s love.” Since the bishops’ definition of truth about human dignity is entwined with oppressive views about gender identity, this policy might be used to protect those who deny a trans student’s identity or disparage their experience.
Additionally, the bishops state:
“The consciences of students and employees will be respected with the assurance of their inviolable right to the acknowledgement that God has created each person as a unity of body and soul, male or female, and that God-designed sexual expression and behavior must be exclusively oriented to love and life in marriage between one man and one woman.”
The policy makes clear that those who uphold the bishops’ definition of sex and gender will be protected.
By explicitly making these two assertions in the policy guidelines, without making any specific protections from bullying and harassment for trans students, the bishops further marginalize and unjustly discriminate against these vulnerable youth.
Theologically, the “Guiding Principles” limit the creative potential of God. Because God created the universe out of nothing, God’s creative capacity is without bounds. To say that God can only make humans whose gender identity matches a person’s sex assigned at birth is to deny God’s ultimate power of creation. Feminist and queer theologians have rejected the idea that God operates within or ordains binaries. They see the male vs. female dichotomy as a function of finite beings who themselves have set up systems of binaries, and a projection onto God.
Fr. James Martin, SJ has criticized similar understandings of gender and sexual identity by Church authorities as, “mainly a dialogue with philosophers and theologians, and with other church documents; but not with scientists and biologists, not with psychologists, and certainly not with LGBT people.”
The Minnesota bishops should immediately rescind these guidelines until they take the experience of trans people seriously, listen to the LGBTQ community to hear how they experience gender and sexuality in relationship to God, and consult 21st century science and psychology to ensure the well-being of students entrusted to their care. Had the bishops chosen to open a true dialogue, they would hear the truth about trans people from trans people. That might allow them to show respect, sensitivity, and preferential compassion to trans people as “God-given blessings” rather than continue to oppress and harm an already marginalized population—the antithesis to Jesus’ mission.
The bishops could adopt policies like Alverno College in neighboring Wisconsin and Loyola University in nearby Chicago, who understand the foundational Catholic principle of caring for each person in unique ways. Catholic policies, should be oriented to supporting and affirming students in their own gender expression and sexual identity. Jesus, who offered binary-destroying love and compassion to all people, is the model for how to respond to transgender people
For more information on how official Catholic doctrine and policies continue to harm the transgender community, and how some Catholic communities are working to be affirming and inclusive, see the “Transgender” category, or click here. For resources about transgender people and Catholicism, click here. If you are interested in hosting a session of “Trans-Forming Love,” New Ways Ministry’s workshop on pastoral ministry with transgender people, click here.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, March 4, 2020