Catholic Schools Coach Resigns in Protest of Anti-Transgender Archdiocesan Policies

Meli Barber, vice president of DignityUSA, speaking at a rally against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ anti-transgender policies

A basketball coach at Indianapolis’ Catholic schools has resigned in protest of archdiocesan guidelines that target transgender students in such schools, guidelines which have prompted many other protests, too.

Earlier in the summer, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis released new archdiocese-wide guidelines that reduce transgender students’ humanity to their sex assigned at birth, limiting their right to be called by their affirmed names and pronouns, and potentially denying enrollment to those who have legally, “chemically and/or surgically” altered their sex assigned at birth.

The guidelines, which were intended to be kept private by the archdiocesan and school administrators, were overwhelmingly condemned by LGBTQ Catholics, LGBTQ-affirming Catholic and secular organizations, and, more recently, by the Indianapolis community.

Tyler Key, a youth basketball coach for Indianapolis Catholic schools, resigned in protest in response to the guidelines. The Indianapolis Star explained:

“[Key] said he could no longer stay quiet. He decided to walk away from coaching youth basketball in the Catholic school system. He had recently started a development program for Scecina and had previously coached at Our Lady of Lourdes and Holy Spirit.

“‘It got to the point where when you’re going after kids, especially marginalized kids, that was kind of a line too far,”’Key said. ‘I’m ashamed of myself that it took this long for me to take a stand against some of the practices and beliefs within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and I guess to some extent, the Catholic Church as a whole.’

“Key sent a letter to various members of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, the Superintendent of the Office of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and the President and athletic director at Scecina Memorial High School explaining his decision to step away from coaching.

“‘The basketball program that I have been lucky enough to create is based off of Respect and Tolerance,’ the letter read in part. ‘We preach “Respect the Game,” but this is not just a fun motto for only on the court purposes, this message transcends basketball and teaches our youth to respect everyone in this world.  To RESPECT our differences as human beings only helps to create a more beautiful society.  I have to ask myself, how can I truly preach these fundamental rules of humanity while the organization I represent does not only (not) hold these same Truths, but instead actively discriminates (against) others in our community. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot and will not represent the Catholic Church while these teachings and policies remain.'”

Key reported that another coach has also resigned in protest. And Key decided with his wife to withdraw their children from Catholic schools. In response to Key, archdiocesan spokesperson Gina Fleming said the policy was “taken out of context,” “intended as an internal tool,” and “part of a bigger response” to transgender students. But these words have not pacified Indianapolis Catholics and their allies.

In July, a socially-distanced caravan rally was hosted by Shelly’s Voice outside the Catholic Center in Indianapolis. A number of LGBTQ advocacy groups co-sponsored the event, drawing over 100 vehicles. The attendees listened to a number of speakers from their cars, beeping their horns instead of clapping to dramatic effect.

Among the speakers were state and local politicians, parents of trans students, Meli Barber, the vice president of DignityUSA (one of the co-sponsors), and Shelly Fitzgerald, the former Roncalli High School counselor suspended in 2018, and later fired, for her same-gender marriage.

The message of the rally was clear: the community supports LGBTQ students, and trans students in particular. They came to tell Archbishop Charles Thompson that the archdiocese’s guidelines were transphobic and had no basis in behavior modeled by Jesus. Barber, who had previously served as director of religious education in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said at the rally that the guidelines cannot be grounded in the God of Christianity. She told those gathered that she is “confident that this policy does not represent the heart of God, the heart of a God who loved us, all of us, into existence.”

Other speakers echoed this sentiment, pleading with teachers in Catholic schools to treat transgender students the same as any others, and do as Jesus would do—show them love. One speaker, the aunt of a transgender student, implored those responsible for teaching her niece and others like her:

“Remind your students that you love them unconditionally. All of them. Please create a space where they know they are loved and accepted.”

In addition to the rally, the community is organizing other approaches to demand the archdiocese rescind its flawed policy. An online petition asking the archdiocese to create a more inclusive policy toward trans students that upholds their inherent dignity has garnered over 3,500 signatures.

In recent weeks, letters to the editor of the Indianapolis Star included voices opposing the archdiocese’s transphobic policy. One such letter included an unequivocal affirmation of LGTBQ youth from three Catholic school teachers in Indianapolis. In their letter, the teachers insist that, based on their Christian beliefs, they welcome and affirm all children, especially LGBTQ children, who face discrimination.

Another letter addressed to the “silent allies in the Catholic community” implored them to speak out against the policy. Recognizing that most U.S. Catholics support LGBTQ equality, the writer asks those Catholics to speak out against the discriminatory policies that are harming their LGBTQ family.

Some lawmakers at the Indiana statehouse have been moved by the community outcry, and are considering legislation that would prevent religious schools from receiving public funds if they discriminate against LGBTQ students. One lawmaker, Rep. Chris Campbell explained the need for the legislation:

“The number one priority of these [public funds] is to educate the children in our state and that means all of our children.”

Over the last two years, in response to the anti-LGBTQ policies directed at employees of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and now the transphobic policies directed toward students in the archdiocese schools, the faithful of Indianapolis have shown immense courage, effective organizing, and a sincere love of their neighbors. When the church hierarchy institutes policies that run counter to the moral convictions of the laity, it is the laity’s affirmed right and their ecclesial duty to withhold their consent to these policies.

The lay Catholic community in Indianapolis is a model of how to effectively and courageously stand with the LGBTQ community as Jesus surely would.

Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, August 17, 2020

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