Denver Archdiocese’s Gender Policy Bans Transgender Students from Catholic Schools

Archbishop Samuel Aquila

An archdiocesan gender policy that has been made public bans transgender students from attending Catholic schools, and also implies LGBTQ+ parents, employees, and even allies should be excluded or fired.

The Archdiocese of Denver’s gender policy, made public this week by The Denver Post, had reportedly been in place for several years. The policy, “Guidance for Issues Concerning the Human Person and Sexual Identity,” is replete with teachings on gender complementarity and negatives ideas about LGBTQ+ people.

One question posed in the policy is whether Catholic schools can enroll transgender students. The policy draws a distinction between students who are affirming of their trans identity, those who are struggling to accept their assigned sex, and those with atypical gender expression. Of this first group, the policy concludes trans students should be denied enrollment:

“Practically speaking, when parents are relying on secular medical or psychological advice that stresses parental affirmation of the child’s desired identity as the only way to support the child, then the situation will prove unworkable. Even if the parents and child express willingness to comply with relevant school rules in the short term, the situation is not workable because the family and the school are working from irreconcilable premises and moving towards incompatible goals. Accordingly, enrollment or re-enrollment of such a student at a Catholic school would not be appropriate.”

The only conditions under which a student struggling with gender dysphoria may be admitted are if the student “has not taken steps to transition, nor overtly rejected his or her given sexual identity or asserted an alternative ‘identity’ [bold in original].” The policy states that a student in this situation is explicitly banned from coming out, including off campus and on social media. Students who exhibited atypical gender expression, but are not trans or questioning, are allowed, as long as they are not engaging in “behaviors that aim to communicate an identity message.”

The policy also addresses how schools should approach transgender and nonbinary students who come out while currently enrolled. If the student or their parents affirm a trans identity, the “student’s continued enrollment would become untenable.” The policy attributes trans identities to a variety of factors: trauma, sexual abuse, poor peer relationships, anorexia, autism, “extensive time on social media,” or having peers who are “struggling with identity issues.” It also relies on the false idea of rapid onset gender dysphoria, particularly for girls.

The policy states: “In no situation should the school recognize, encourage, endorse, or facilitate a student’s ‘gender transition. [emphasis in original]'” Requests to use a student’s chosen pronouns, wear uniforms not aligned with their assigned sex, or make restroom accommodations should be denied, and use of names that deviate from a student’s legal name need to be handled delicately.

The policy also addresses other LGBTQ+ issues. For instance, the policy explains that support groups and safe space initiatives are not allowed:

“Gay-siraight [sic] alliances should not be permitted in Catholic schools because they erroneously promote students’ acceptance and approval of LGBTQ identities and behaviors as healthy and moral. . .A high school student group specifically for LGBTQ-identified students, even one that openly accepts Catholic teaching on sexual identity and chastity, may do more harm than good. Student and staff who are poorly catechized may perceive the group at the Catholic school as no different from the gay-straight alliances at public schools, which conveys the erroneous idea that these students should define themselves primarily by their sexual desires.”

Likewise, same-gender couples may not attend school functions together, and chaperones should supervise same-gender dancing partners at school socials:

“School personnel should be aware of the ‘Love is Love’ media campaigns and popular memes that saturate youth-oriented media, effectively teaching them that same-sex relationships are no different from male-female relationships. . .The school should be consistent in limiting ‘couples only’ activities to opposite-sex couples. . .

“Chaperones should be prepared to intervene in dance situations that involve persons of the same-sex behaving in flirtatious, romantic, or sexualized ways towards each other ,just as they should be prepared to intervene if an opposite-sex couple engages in sexually provocative or intimate actions while dancing.”

The policy also touches on LGBTQ+ parents of students in Catholic schools. It advises school officials to consult the archdiocese when parents in a same-gender relationship seek to enroll their children, the concern being it could lead people to think their family was no different from straight couples. This section also includes a warning against bullying:

“If a child being raised by a same-sex couple is enrolled, the school must make every effort to ensure that the child is not bullied or teased because of his or her family situation. The Catholic school has an important opportunity to convey the truth about human dignity and God’s love by ensuring an atmosphere of respect and charity. If a child of a same-sex couple is enrolled, the school should make clear that it can recognize a couple that is a mother and a father for the child, but cannot recognize ‘two mothers’ or ‘two fathers’ as a family structure. . .The school should seek a commitment from the couple that they will respect the identity and mission of school by avoiding public displays of affection at school functions and exercising discretion about their living situation.”

The policy addresses LGBTQ-related employment issues for faculty and staff. Schools are instructed to make employees sign so-called “morality clauses” which state they will uphold Catholic moral teachings, including off-campus and on social media. Employees who decide to transition or be in a same-gender relationship are “unsuited for teaching or serving in the Catholic school.” Even for employees who simply want to support LGBTQ students, the terms “ally” and “advocate” are banned, and such persons are considered “a poor fit for teaching or serving in a Catholic school.”

Finally, the policy all but bans LGBTQ+ topics from being included in curricula, naming specific groups like GLSEN (a pro-LGBTQ+ education association) as in opposition to the Catholic Church, even claiming “materials from Southern Poverty Law Center’s ‘Teaching Tolerance’ website” are not permitted.

The Archdiocese of Denver’s policy, being several years old, has likely already done grave harm to LGBTQ+ students, their families, employees, and allies. It is one of the most comprehensive gender policies released by a diocese to date, and one of the more severe ones. Sadly, all of this harm is being done based on false claims about gender, and seemingly without any input from the transgender students and their families it targets.

Each succeeding diocesan policy against LGBTQ+ people outdoes its predecessors in imposing increasingly severe restrictions.  Such policies must stop.  Catholics in the Denver Archdiocese should write to the archbishop to let them know that his policies do not reflect their understanding of a church which Pope Francis has said should be “a home for all.”

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will feature reactions to the archdiocesan policy from Catholics and LGBTQ+ advocates. 

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, November 10, 2022

8 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Bullying takes many forms. Some bullying is physical action or intimidation. Some is psychological. And psychological bullying can be extremely destructive, even driving the bullied to suicide. It is cruel. It often comes from people who are threatened, unable to accept the people they attack.

    The actions of the bishop and the institutions that follow his directives are bullying. They are cruel. They are humane. They are not Christian.

    After listing students who should be excluded, groups that should be excluded, parents who should be excluded, behaviors that should be excluded, and words that should be excluded, the statement has the gall to state that “The Catholic school has an important opportunity to convey the truth about human dignity and God’s love by ensuring an atmosphere of respect and charity.” As though that one statement covers over the atmosphere of fear, disrespect, exclusion, intolerance, misinformation and targeting that the whole policy orders be enforced in the archdiocese’s Catholic schools. Indeed, it seems to me that such a policy – contrary to the dignity and love of God they say should be taught, is a policy that leads to discrimination, hatred and even violence.

    We have already seen the damage such policies have had in the states of Texas and Florida with the “don’t say gay” laws. But to enshrine such policies in schools that should be embodying the words of John’s letter that “God is love, and those who live in love, live in God and God in them” in unfathomable. One of the things Jesus is recorded to have said most frequently is “Do not be afraid.” The policy instead teaches “be afraid, be very afraid.”

  2. Drew Conneen
    Drew Conneen says:

    Tragic, but hardly surprising when this same Archbishop Aquila tried introducing Conversion Therapy into Archdiocesan policies a few years ago. Of course, there is the obligatory language about loving and caring for all God’s people.

  3. Reggie Birks
    Reggie Birks says:

    These policies are very troubling, and have no grounding in the Gospels. It’s hard to believe. Church leaders can be so self-righteous. God forgive them for they know not what they do. The Church needs a pontifical commission established to thoroughly examine teachings regarding human sexuality and gender identities based on human knowledge gained over the past 50+ years.


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