On May 13 the U.S. departments of Justice and Education issued a “guidance letter on Title IX” directing every public school in the country, including most public universities and colleges, to allow transgender persons access to bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice.
The policy states that “when a school provides sex-segregated activities and facilities, transgender students must be allowed to participate in such activities and access such facilities consistent with their gender identity.”
The administration not only gave this “guidance,” but, in addition, issued a threat to ensure compliance. If schools are non-compliant, they will lose their federal funding for children’s education. We saw this same maneuvering in Minnesota when an anti-bullying bill was passed in 2014.
Bishop Richard Malone, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop George Lucas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education, responded to the letter: “It unfortunately does not respect the ongoing political discussion at the state and local levels and in Congress, or the broader cultural discussion, about how best to address these sensitive issues. Rather, the guidance short-circuits those discussions entirely.”
The bishops were clear that more is at stake than a political debate.
It is deeply disturbing to treat “a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex,” they said. “The guidance fails to address a number of important concerns and contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created’ (“Amoris Laetitia,” No. 285).”
In his new apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” our Holy Father points out that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated…. [Gender ideology] denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman … [and] leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time” (No. 56).
This does not mean, however, that the church is unsympathetic to the struggles of people who characterize themselves as transgender. And it doesn’t lessen the respect that we must have for their well-being and dignity as children of God.
“Especially at a young age and in schools, it is important that our children understand the depth of God’s love for them and their intrinsic worth and beauty,” Bishop Malone and Archbishop Lucas said. “Children should always be and feel safe and secure and know they are loved.”
The church understands it is difficult for a child and his or her parents when a rare and profound concern such as gender identity is questioned.
But the church also realizes that seeking a quick fix — such as by changing longstanding mores about who can and cannot enter particular bathrooms — does not constitute a compassionate or respectful response to the internal struggle that accompanies such concerns. A better response is one rooted in respect while acknowledging what it truly means to be human. The church is ready to walk with families facing this challenge.
As Catholics, we have an advantage. Our teaching is clear, hopeful and inspiring. This stands in stark contrast to the confusion and dysfunction that results from gender ideology. The truth of who we are, made in the image and likeness of God, made male and female, resonates deeply within every human being.
While the world may distort or twist this fact, we must be willing to proclaim it. And when someone struggles with this concern, our response should always be rooted in love and compassion.
Parents and local school boards in every community across America should stand up and say to this social experiment: “Not with our children; not on our watch!”
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.