Bishops Help Sink Pro-Transgender Policy Proposal at University of North Dakota

The bishops of North Dakota have successfully helped end a policy proposal that would have expanded transgender protections at one of the state’s main universities.

University of North Dakota’s (UND) President Andrew Armacost announced in a statement that the school would no longer pursue a draft policy on gender identity, reported Crux. Among other things, the policy would have ensured  correct name and pronouns were respected, ensured use of gender-inclusive language and imagery, and supported trans students when it comes to gender-segregated spaces. Armacost wrote, in part:

“As a result of the recent discussions and because existing policies already provide equal opportunity protections to all of our campus members, UND will cease its work on this draft policy and will not implement it.

“This decision should not signal a lessening of the support we show to each and every member of our campus community. At UND, the expectation is that all of us treat one another with respect and dignity in each of our personal interactions.

“What’s next? The conversations over the last week illustrate the importance of our strong and enduring commitment to free speech, the free exchange of ideas, and a civil dialogue, which are central to the mission of our university. This illustrates my vision for a campus where we come together to address our differences rather than driving each other apart.”

Central to the discussions that led to the draft policy’s demise was an intervention by the North Dakota Catholic Conference. Bondings 2.0 reported previously on the multiple times the Conference and its executive director, Christopher Dodson, objected to the plan. A statement from Dodson in January suggested expanding transgender protections would impose “gender ideology,” infringe on free speech and religious liberty, and violate other laws. A letter was sent to parents with children in the state’s Catholic schools warning them against sending their children to UND.

This vigorous opposition from church leaders, specifically North Dakota’s two bishops, David Kagan of Bismarck and John Folda of Fargo, led UND’s leadership to respond. Armacost held a press conference to address the Catholic leaders’ objections and then said he would reach out to Dodson about his concerns. At the same time, the president was critical of the Conference for generating an urgent controversy when there was no need for one. WZFG reported that Armacost communicated with Dodson in advance of announcing the decision that the draft policy was dead.

President Armacost suggested the events that played out early this year regarding the transgender policy “illustrate the importance of our strong and enduring commitment to free speech, the free exchange of ideas, and a civil dialogue.” I cannot speak for the university community, but when it comes to church leaders’ involvement, I disagree. Catholic tradition abhors maligning vulnerable communities. Moreover, the non-discrimination protections for trans people that UND sought to implement do not infringe on Catholics’ religious liberty. Sadly, UND officials’ consistent attempts to dialogue with Catholic leaders in North Dakota went unanswered, and the result was a dead policy.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 8, 2022

6 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Remind me again how bureaucratic bishops serving the Catholic church have a say in a State University system. Imagine if the State suggested what the church should do.

    • Richard Rosendall
      Richard Rosendall says:

      They operate on the principle that what’s theirs is theirs, and what’s yours is theirs—rather like Vladimir Putin.

      Jeane Kirkpatrick four decades ago tried to explain the difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism. The way it came across to me was that authoritarians were what we called our brutal friends, and totalitarians were what we called our brutal enemies. The distinction mattered little to their victims. I say to them with Galileo, “Eppur si muove.”

  2. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    I don’t see why President Armacost bothered in the first place if he was going to succumb to bullying by the bishops. They will keep using the cudgel of “gender ideology” — a false framing that erases the reality of trans people’s lives — as long as it succeeds in cowing people. The same goes for the bishops’ pose of victimhood. If they are victims, I am the king of Thailand. They are the ones seeking to impose their ideology (or dogma) in contravention of science, as their predecessors did four centuries ago.

  3. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    . . . and this is why so many people are leaving the church. The bishops should be ashamed of themselves, don’t know how they sleep at night. Do they honestly think their words and actions like these are Christ-like? Shame on them.

    • Richard Rosendall
      Richard Rosendall says:

      This raises an interesting question: do the bishops who do this really stop to wonder why they have no moral credibility? I see little evidence that the reality outside their dollhouse of certitudes impinges on their consciousness. Judging by their statements as I have followed them for close to half a century, they seem to think that pausing for reflection would betray their missions as soldiers for Jesus or pastors to their imagined flocks.

      It is as if all of us in the heterodox society around them are mere set decoration for their descent into hell, and they must prove their righteousness by remaining deaf to everything we say—except for the occasional sound bite they can yank out of context and overgeneralize about in order to weaponize it.

      The hardcore authoritarians in the Church are not seriously engaging with dissenters among the faithful at all, much less with thoughtful people in the wider society. We are dismissed as illegitimate, anti-Catholic, or voices of the devil.

      I believe that any church worth caring about in the first place has to be sturdy enough to withstand critical examination, not treated like a delicate Tinkerbell who will vanish if they don’t keep up their dogmatic clapping.

      But you and I who gather in this reflective space are not in the mental state inhabited by those fearful, controlling bishops. The sad irony is that their rigid icon bears about as much resemblance to the Jesus of the Gospels as a planet whose atmosphere has been blasted away in order to save it. To paraphrase Eric Garner and George Floyd, we can’t breathe.


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