Responding to a recent flurry of anti-transgender speech and legislation across the U.S., Fr. Daniel Horan, OFM, has called for the Catholic Church to be welcoming to the transgender community.
In a column for The National Catholic Reporter, Horan, a professor of spirituality and systematic theology at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, wrote that despite some bishops’ anti-trans positions, many Catholic organizations and theologians have opened the church’s doors and are taking an authentic posture of listening and welcome in the face of political hostility towards trans persons.
Horan first provides evidence of the current anti-trans political climate:
“According to the Human Rights Campaign, state legislators have introduced more than 80 anti-transgender bills since Jan. 1, making 2021 a record year for such discriminatory efforts. The proposed legislation covers a range of oppressive actions, including the prohibition of transgender girls and women from participating in school sports and prohibiting or even criminalizing gender-affirming care for some transgender persons.”
While some critics claim that trans people and issues represent a new fad, scholars such as Susan Stryker have refuted this idea. Horan states:
“The increasing recognition of the transgender community and broader representation in media and entertainment were only made possible by the heroic activism, networks and support over decades and centuries, which has not yet received adequate attention.”
The theologian points out that the transgender community has become a scapegoat for the “radicalized extreme right,” and that these attacks come from “an echo chamber that perpetuates the vilest talking points about conspiracy theories, which are then adopted by otherwise mainstream politicians out of a perceived sense of necessity to compete with their challengers.”
Anti-trans attitudes and policies are not just found in the political world, though. Horan says that he has “a harder time reckoning with […] the persistence of transphobia and hatred perpetrated by self-identified Christians, especially by those in ministerial leadership.” His evidence:
“Such was the case last summer when the Indianapolis Archdiocese announced new policies that could ban transgender students from attending Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana. Or, two summers ago when the Vatican’s Congregation for Education released a truly reckless statement that conflated a number of discrete issues and generally lambasted what anti-LGBTQ activists like to call ‘gender ideology,’ an amorphous and essentially meaningless phrase. (You can read my response to the 2019 document here).
“In October, Bishops Michael Barber of Oakland and David Konderla of Tulsa, chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education and Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, respectively, signed a letter addressed to then-Sen. Kelly Loefler and U.S. Rep. Greg Steube expressing their support — and, tacitly, that of the United States bishops — for proposed legislation that targeted transgender girls and women in school and collegiate sports.
“In January, several bishops issued a letter condemning the Biden administration’s plans to extend nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ persons through executive action. The bishops’ letter not only attacked protections for couples in legally protected same-sex civil marriages, but it also identified their opposition to civil rights protecting individuals on the basis of their gender identity.”
Horan writes that while these anti-trans Catholic responses represent “the most contentious and visible public responses to increasing trans visibility in our communities they are not the only Catholic responses; nor are they the most Catholic responses.” He points to the fact that several prominent Catholic leaders and organizations signed onto a supportive statement on the “Transgender Day of Visibility” last month.
He also notes that the Catholic Health Association recently released a guideline for the care of transgender persons titled “Transgender Persons, Their Families, and the Church.” Horan writes:
“Unlike the arrogance of those transphobic Catholic leaders and politicians who falsely insist that the visibility of trans people signals a ‘new trend,’ the preface to this Catholic resource states plainly and accurately: ‘It is likely that transgender people have always existed, but several recent events have brought them and their experiences into the spotlight.’”
Horan also takes stock of developments within the Catholic theological and ethical tradition. He points to the work on a new vision of natural law by theologian Craig Ford, an assistant professor at St. Norbert College, Wisconsin. Horan’s own recent work in theological anthropology “demonstrates how there are other resources in the Catholic tradition and ways of thinking about human personhood that do not result in anti-transgender positions.”
Despite this recent anti-trans political trend, it is important for the church to remain unimpeded by the world’s hatred of persons who are perceived as different. If the church listens to the far right rather than actual experts and transgender persons, Horan writes, “whole groups of people will continue to be oppressed and more people will die.”
The church must acknowledge that care for the transgender community is care for persons who have always lived and worked in parishes, Catholic communities, and Catholic families. The trans community is particularly vulnerable, especially now in light of anti-trans attacks and legislation. The church and all persons of good will ought to listen to Horan’s call and defend the human dignity of the trans community.
—Madeline Foley, New Ways Ministry, April 20, 2021