In Connecticut, alumni of a Catholic high school are challenging the institution’s gender identity policy, while in Texas, a Catholic high school is rumored to have fired its principal for not enforcing its policy on gender and sexuality.
Alumni Protest St. Paul High School Gender Policy
The Hartford Courant reported that St. Paul High School in Connecticut issued a policy in its 2021-2022 handbook that reads:
“St. Paul Catholic High School shall accept and relate to students and all members of the school community, for the duration of their years in attendance at St. Paul, according to their God-given, biological sex as male or female consistent with the complementary nature of each, and maintain appropriate distinctions between males and females especially in issues of facilities use, athletic teams, uniforms and nomenclature.”
The handbook adds that the school “shall not sponsor, facilitate, or host such organizations, events, or activities that would promote views contrary to Catholic doctrine regarding human sexuality and gender, either on or off campus, or through social media,” and a “pastoral approach consistent with Catholic Church teachings must be used in addressing matters of gender, including transgenderism, and gender dysphoria.”
Over 200 alumni from St. Paul responded to this policy through an open letter to school leaders. The letter calls the policy “transphobic” and “grossly harmful to past, present and future students,” and it seeks the policy’s removal:
“For St. Paul to add such transphobic and dismissive language to the Student Handbook in 2021 is abhorrent and grossly harmful to past, present and future students. Therefore, in solidarity with LGBTQ+ St. Paul students, with this letter we add a collective voice – representing St. Paul alumni from various graduating years across race, sexual orientation, gender identity and faith – to call on St. Paul to remove this policy and issue an apology to its students.”
Kindeya Chiaro, a 2013 graduate, started the initiative after seeing a screenshot of the policy on Instagram. She said:
“‘I wrote the letter and shared it with a few friends, hoping to get signatures from alumni and people started sharing it and it definitely made its rounds.
“‘I’m bisexual myself. In high school, I wasn’t out. I could probably count the amount of students on my hand that were fully out. When you’re in that environment and you know you’re in the most vulnerable stages of your life trying to figure everything out, it’s really difficult to be your true authentic self in a place that shames it and a place that makes you feel like you’re wrong and you have to pick and choose between your faith and who you are.'”
Chiaro said before the policy, she did not believe the school was openly opposed to LGBTQ students, but now sees it as “doubling down in a way it hadn’t before.”
St. Paul’s president, Cary Dupont, released a response to the protests:
“‘All students enrolled at St. Paul Catholic High School are treated with the love, respect and compassion they deserve. We aim to educate and nurture the whole person – mind, body and spirit. We accept and relate to all members of our school community, for the duration of their years in attendance, according to their God-given biological sex consistent with Catholic doctrine and Archdiocesan policy.”
Chiaro offered a rebuttal to Dupont’s statment:
“‘. . . I think it is possible to be in alignment with Catholicism while still creating a safe and welcoming environment for all students. What we’re hoping St. Paul understand[s] is not everything has to be strictly black and white, and people often live at intersections: A student can be Catholic and nonbinary, a student can be Christian and trans.'”
Antonian Principal’s Resignation Possibly Tied to Gender Policy
Earlier this year, Antonian College Preparatory High School issued a policy which threatened to expel transgender students, and the school faced criticism after the policy became public. Now, the San Antonio Express-News reported that parents and students at the school believe the resignation of the school’s principal, Tim Peterson, is connected to his lack of enforcement of this policy.
Marti West, the head of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, announced Peterson’s resignation in a letter and thanked him for his six years of service. But parents and students believe that Peterson was actually fired for not enacting the new LGBTQ-negative policy on gender and sexuality. Gerald Flores, a parent of two Antonian students, said:
“‘What upsets the parents is that (West) lied to us. She said he resigned when in fact she fired him. Parents and kids at the campus believe that the reason why he was fired was because he wasn’t ultraorthodox right-wing Catholic, like Ms. West is. He wasn’t pushing her policy enough, that the school was becoming too secular.'”
Parents hoped to share their concerns and unease about Peterson’s departure with West and the school council but the meeting was canceled at the last minute. Parents gathered at the school anyway for a discussion. Flores says that “parents will continue to organize, they have requested a meeting with the auxiliary bishop, who is (West’s) immediate boss. The problem is it is affecting our kids.”
Restrictive gender identity policies enforced by bishops and diocesan schools seem designed to foster an environment centered on Catholic teaching and values. However, these policies do not reflect a core Catholic teaching: respecting human dignity. Students become harmed, silenced, disregarded, and disrespected under such policies. The environment becomes not one of Catholic charity, but hostility and exclusion. Through the courage and witness of students, parents, and allies, perhaps the hardened hearts of some church leaders will soften.
—Elise Dubravec, New Ways Ministry, October 1, 2021