Univ. of Dallas Alumni Seek Removal of Professor Over Transphobic Social Media Posts

Bethany Beeler

A trans alumna’s demand that her Catholic university take action against a professor who has demeaned a trans woman who has been nominated for a high-ranking position in the Biden administration, has been rebuffed by the campus administration.

Bethany Beeler, a graduate at the University of Dallas, a Catholic school in Texas, started a petition calling for the removal of David Upham, chair of the school’s political philosophy department. Beeler called for Upham’s removal after he wrote a Facebook post deadnaming Dr. Rachel Levine and referring to her as male, Dallas News reported. Levine, a trans woman who previously served as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, has been nominated by the Biden administration to be Assistant Secretary for Health. Beeler’s petition was signed by 66 alumni. [Editor’s note: “Deadnaming” refers to the offensive practice of referring to trans people by the names they used before a transition instead of the new names they chose to more accurately reflect their gender identity.]

In the now-deleted post, Upham drew on conservative Catholic theology to make harmful statements about trans people in general and Levine in particular. According to the Dallas Observer, Upham “identified Levine by her former name … repeatedly referred to her as male and described as her being ‘surgically mutilated’ in her transition to becoming a trans woman.”

He went on to say:

“Dissenters will have to say ‘SHE’ and ‘WOMAN’ or ‘HE’ and ‘MAN’ even when they know it’s false … Dissenters will have to pay for and provide hormonal treatments that will materially harm men and women’s capacity to fulfill the command of almighty God to be fruitful and multiply by the mutual clinging of male and female.”

Beeler wrote, “His inflammatory descriptions of trans persons only promotes prejudice against, misconceptions about, and violence upon us.”

In a letter signed by President Thomas Hibbs and Provost Jonathan Sanford, university leadership said they would not take action against Upham. Dallas News reported:

“The leaders said that they would not yield to ‘external demands’ and that the school is ‘not in the business of limiting the speech of our faculty and staff when they speak on personal social media sites.’ They also reinforced the school’s commitment to the Catholic Church and its teachings.

“‘The university embraces unreservedly the Church’s articulation of the moral law, including its articulation of those truths that deal with the embodied nature of the human person and human sexuality,’ they wrote.”

Margaret Mary, a University of Dallas alumni who signed Beeler’s petition, felt that Upham’s Facebook post was a cause for concern for the university community. Mary told the Dallas Observer:

“‘It was a nasty post mocking a real person and inventing fake dystopian nightmares in which he himself is forced to participate in transgender surgeries, a complete fallacy … Truly it devalues my degree and everyone’s degrees in an increasingly progressive world to have our alma mater sanction hate speech.’”

Dallas News reported that Upham wrote another Facebook post where he doubled down on his position while assuring people his job was secure.

This incident isn’t the first controversy Upham has been involved in; previously, he opposed students starting a racial justice club at the university, reported the Dallas Observer.

In addition to the harm that incidents like this create for Levine, who as a public figure has frequently faced transphobic comments, behavior like Upham’s creates a university environment that is harmful to trans students. The administration’s statement about upholding Church teachings did not address how the university would help students who were harmed by the incident.

Mac Svolos, New Ways Ministry, February 16, 2021

3 replies
  1. Judith Lorenz
    Judith Lorenz says:

    Thank you Bethany Beeler for speaking out on behalf of the transgender community. The disdain of trans people shown by Department Chair, David Upham is reprehensible. Equally disturbing are the statements by the president and provost of the university. Sadly, using God to defend personal bigotry is commonplace these days. Humans of integrity must continue to speak truth to power. Christians of integrity need to follow the example of Jesus and love their neighbors. Pretty simple.

  2. Ann Connolly
    Ann Connolly says:

    This column saddens me! Catholic institutions of higher education provide students (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) the opportunity to broaden their worldview in an environment of Christian values — respect for the dignity of EVERY person. While freedom of expression on the part of faculty is something to honor, when a faculty member so flagrantly disabuses his freedom to demean others, it distorts Jesus’ message and runs the risk of emboldening twisted minds to enact violence (in words and actions) on others. I would respect the university more it if at least issued a word of censure on this professor! As an alumna of Marquette University, I am very proud of the intentional efforts of my alma mater to stand for Catholic values AND exhibit respect for LGBTQ individuals!

  3. Dr. CC
    Dr. CC says:

    A lot of the heated conversations around the transgender topic seem to be a result of exclusively focusing on the GENDER of the person. Questions of how gender is defined, does gender even exist (is gender simply an arbitrary social construct?), how many genders are there (2 or 72?) often are non-negotiable positions at the outset of such conversations. It seems that the appropriate pastoral approach to take that advances the conversation in a way that does justice to both science and the sensitivity regarding the gender of the person is to bring in BOTH biological sex and gender into the conversation. That way, all reasonable parties – even when holding seemingly irreconcilable views – can hopefully move forward in respectful conversation.

    To this end, Dr. Upham probably could have taken a softer tone and said something like “Dr. Levine is a biological male who feels more comfortable/natural associating with traits and mannerisms generally thought of as being traditionally feminine” or “Dr. Levine is a biological male who presents himself, both optically and in his overall aesthetic, as being what most reasonable people would consider feminine” or “Dr. Levine is a biological male who is more comfortable associating with the female gender.”

    That way, Dr. Upham could remain faithful to Catholicism and to the science that Dr. Levine is – and always will be – a biological male (ie his sex, which is a well-defined, non-negotiable scientific phenomenon and reality) while respecting Dr. Levine’s gender dysphoria.

    I think that’s an approach that everyone can get on board with.


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