Top U.S. Bishops Issue Letter of Support for Legislation Targeting Transgender Athletes

Bishop Michael Barber, SJ, left, and Bishop David Konderla, right

Two committee chairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have stated their support for a federal anti-transgender bill that would cut off  Title IX funding from schools which permit transgender girls and women to compete athletically with their cisgender female peers.

In an October 27, 2020 press release, the chairs of the USCCB’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and Committee on Catholic Education submitted a letter to Congress advocating for the passage of the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2020, or S. 4649 and H.R. 5702.

The chairs who issued the statement were Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa and Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., of Oakland for the respective committees. Barber has since been replaced as chair of the Committee on Catholic Education by Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington after the USCCB’s meeting last week. 

A complete version of the letter by Bishops Konderla and Barber can be found here. The letter was addressed to the bill’s two sponsors: Senator Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, and Representative Greg Steube of Florida.

As reported by Crux, 17 states already have legislative proposals pending that would prohibit transgender female students from participating in athletics in accordance with their gender identity. In February 2020, the families of three female high school athletes in Connecticut initiated legal action in federal court to prevent transgender students from competing in female sports.

One excerpt from Bishop Barber’s and Bishop Konderla’s letter deserves a closer analysis, especially because it is couched in supportive language:

“Youth who experience gender identity discordance should be assured the right to participate in, or try-out for, student athletics on the same terms as any of their peers, in co-educational activities or, where sexes are separated, in accord with their given sex. Harassment or unjust discrimination against them in this regard is unequivocally immoral. Conversely, a loving response which affirms the value of persons as fellow human beings helps them to develop a genuine peace with their mind and body, rather than facilitating drastic ‘transitions’ in pursuit of an identity fully independent of their physical body.”

First, the bishops base their decision in the notion that a person’s sex assigned at birth defines their gender. Second, it denies the lived reality of transgender youth by labeling them as“confused” and therefore not in possession of a coherent identity in the same manner as cisgender persons. Third, the bishops’ use of the word “transitions” in quotations marks above denigrates a transgender person’s journey of discovering and living into their gender identity, exacerbating the psychological suffering and emotional pain transgender youth may experience when trying to articulate who they are. 

One glaring omission in the bishops’ letter is the word “transgender.” Did Bishops Barber and Konderla converse with and learn from the experiences of transgender students before writing this document? Did they consult with parents of transgender children, psychologists, and educational professionals who have experience with and focus on gender-related topics of adolescence development?

Transgender student athletes deserve to be treated with compassion and dignity, rather than be excluded from an area of their adolescence that has the potential to bring them a great amount of joy and a sense of belonging, something that all children desire.

Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, November 24, 2020

5 replies
  1. Fiona Bowie
    Fiona Bowie says:

    We are talking about school kids taking part in sport. What on earth do these men think they are playing at! My daughter transitioned at 14 and being able to play hockey with her classmates was important. Even then there were questions about whether she could join a competitive team and her confidence destroyed she dropped out of school never to return. She was on hormone blockers so did not have male levels of testosterone or male musculature- chemically she was not playing as a boy. The consequences of loss of physical fitness and the huge mental and psychological damage caused to trans young people is horrific.

  2. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    The bishops’ letter talks about a “loving response” which is devoid of learning, listening, or understanding. They reduce the “physical body” to genitalia and simply ignore the science, while using scare quotes to dismiss rather than bother to examine the science or consider the experience of those at the heart of the matter. It reflects a total failure of any responsible pastoral role, which requires connection rather than condescension. They appear to assume that they know everything while demonstrating their selective blindness. You cannot minister to people you refuse to see.

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    So this is what bishops worry about? Really? Has everyone been fed, clothed, visited in prison, cared for?

    I am not an athlete, but the images of the bishops and their statement would indicate to me that before they start to give advice about sports they take a few minutes to know what the real physical and mental requirements of athletics require and that it is the spirit you bring to the effort that is the real focus. Everyone on a playing field has different advantages and disadvantages and must play to their best. Luckily bishops are not referees.

  4. Lillian Moskeland
    Lillian Moskeland says:

    And this new unscientific alliance with ignorance is what has made Catholicism obsolete in my mind and the minds of many thoughtful, caring persons. These Bishops need to retire.

  5. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    Speaking as a retired, recreation professional, this is very disturbing. I find Title IX problematic because it has encouraged the separation of males and females with the justification that it provides an incentive for participation in sports. I have witnessed that it has created additional barriers for females who prefer to participation in male dominated sports like baseball and football.

    Title IX also erases the non-binary folx.

    Now the bishops are muddying up the waters further by putting in their ignorant two cents. Lord, have mercy. Let people play a game without interference!

    BTW coaches are supposed to evaluate and their players’ strengths and weakness when strategizing in competitive leagues. Genitalia should not be part of the strategizing.


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