A South Dakota diocese has issued a new policy on LGBTQ+ issues that admits it is “intentionally exclusionary,” in particular to transgender and non-binary people.
The Diocese of Sioux Falls, led by Bishop Donald DeGrood, published the policy in early August under the title, “Conforming with the Church’s Teaching on Human Sexuality in Education Settings.”
The policy presents arguments for sex complementarity and LGBTQ-negative teachings that have become standard in such diocesan documents. The diocese mandates that students, church workers, and parish volunteers all are to be treated according to their assigned sex at birth in matters like names, pronouns, documentation, restrooms, and more. It threatens expulsion from school, employment termination, or bans on parish ministry as possible sanctions if individuals were to “advocate, celebrate, or express” being LGBTQ+.
Moreover, the Sioux Falls policy is notably more restrictive than policies elsewhere. For example, when it comes to all parish ministry or liturgical involvement at Catholic schools, trans people are barred from serving any roles such as Eucharistic ministers or parish council members. The diocese admits its rules are “intentionally exclusionary,” but tries to suggest such exclusion would apply to all who are in “a state of grave sin or public scandal.” Further rules in the new policy include:
- Urging that trans people should not receive Communion if they are “publicly living a transgender lifestyle or undergoing a transition,” while those who “are privately harboring thoughts about transitioning” may receive.
- A ban on baptism for transgender people “until Church teachings are accepted,” as well as prohibiting them serving as godparents, confirmation sponsors, or members of bridal parties.
- Funerals are allowed for trans people, but there may be “no endorsement that the individual ‘transitioned,” and the person must be referred to using their assigned birth name and pronouns only. Obituaries which respect a trans person’s chosen identity are banned from distribution, and eulogies are also restricted in ways that would disrespect the trans person.
Likewise restrictive in quite some detail are policies for Catholic schools. The policy is explicit that “the Catholic school’s mission. . .[is] the greater consideration than a school administration’s concern for any one student.” It includes standard rules that threaten LGBTQ+ students with expulsion and employees with termination, but also the following:
- Schools may not have a “transgender bathroom,” nor can there be “any investments made in physical structure that is meant to provide accommodation for a youth claiming to be transitioning or transitioned.”
- Students who respect a trans or non-binary classmate’s chosen name and/or pronouns are to be reprimanded “immediately” with “instruction given to refrain from using” them.
- There must be “particular consideration” given to the gender identity of potential employees if there is “high probability of the adult spending extended time alone with youth.”
- Athletics are to be gender-segregated according to assigned sex, and if a visiting team from another school has a trans or non-binary member, the Catholic school may bar that visiting team from using its facilities.
In contrast, at a couple points in the policy, there is a clear indication that no one should be bullied, harassed, or attacked for their identity.
Understandably, the diocesan policy is being challenged. Dakota News Now reported on comments by John Wilka, the Catholic parent of a trans child named Kris who once attended Catholic schools. The father and son both believe Kris’ transition while attending Bishop O’Gorman Middle School prompted the policy.
Wilka called the policy “very frightening and very dangerous” as it will likely lead to youth being harmed, including self-harm and suicide, as well as violence by others. He pointed out that before this policy, Catholic schools had been a welcome place:
“In his Catholic system elementary school, Kris was treated ‘wonderfully,’ Wilka said. ‘Their reaction and position is “what can we do to make your child’s education a success?” . . .
“In middle school, Kris was told he had to play sports with the girls. The reason, Wilka said, is ‘concern was voiced about what negative effect he might have on them by just being there. Would it confuse the children, and stuff like that?’. . .
“‘That’s along the same line of people who thought you could “pray away gay,”‘ Wilka said. ‘It’s just not going to happen. But if you bring the overwhelming power of the church to a transgender child and say “how you’ve felt your whole life is wrong and immoral,” well, congratulations, you’ve just increased the risk of suicide by forty percent.'”
Wilka is now reconsidering whether to remain Catholic, although he is convinced that “it is the people who are the church, not the ones who wear the fancy outfits” and that church leaders “have to serve us as opposed to telling us that how a person is born is unnatural.”
Sioux Falls is the latest diocese to release anti-transgender policies, following a number of other dioceses have likewise done so in recent years. Beyond just the proliferation of such policies, however, there is a further troubling trend. With each policy iteration, the restrictions seem to be intensifying, both in scope and in detail.
The Sioux Falls policy says openly what the purpose of the policies are: to be “intentionally exclusionary.” Parishes and schools devoid of LGBTQ+ people will not be a mere side effect of these policies. Such exclusion is their goal.
To prevent that, with each policy escalation, our response must be to become even more creative in finding solutions that ensure LGBTQ+ people, especially youth, are safe and welcome in Catholic spaces.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, August 22, 2022