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