Transgender students who have taken any steps toward gender affirmation may be excluded from Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana under a new policy from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
The Policy and Norms on Sexual Identify in School Ministry, approved by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson this month, says that “any student whose gender has been legally changed from their biological sex, or who has chemically and/or surgically altered their given biology, may not be eligible for enrollment,” The Indianapolis Star reports. Most trans people do not undergo genital surgery until they are 18 or older, but some undergo chest surgery or take puberty blockers.
Trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming students may attend if they are willing to go along with Catholic teachings about the immutability of gender. As the policy puts it, those “experiencing confusion regarding their sexual identity may be admitted, as long as they are open to accompaniment and the teaching of the church.”
Schools should help these students “navigate the difficult issues related to sexual identity while obeying God’s will for their lives and living in accordance with church values,” the policy states. It emphasizes, “The truth of human sexuality as ‘male’ and ‘female’ belongs to the very core teaching of Christianity on the human person.”
The eight-page document was emailed last week to the 67 schools under the archdiocese’s purview, according to the Star. Gina Fleming, superintendent of archdiocese schools, told recipients it was an “internal policy” and should not be included in handbooks for faculty, staff, students, or parents.
But now that news of the policy has come out, advocates for LGBTQ+ youth are denouncing it. “The Indianapolis archdiocese’s attempt to target transgender young people rather than create safe and accepting environments for them is shameful and dangerous,” said a statement released by Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. “Research shows transgender youth face a higher risk of suicide from just this kind of rejection and refusal to see their authentic identity. To codify this rejection further isolates and threatens the very young people in need of love and protection.”
In reviewing the policy, GLAAD found it refers to hormone therapy and gender-affirmation surgery as “mutilation,” requires students to use restrooms that align with their “biological sex” as well as dress in ways that reflect that, and rejects the idea of using trans students’ preferred names and pronouns.
Several other activists joined in saying the policy would harm students. “They’re talking about a large portion of their students that they are all right with inflicting mental health issues and perhaps suicidal ideation on,” Chris Paulsen, executive director of the Indiana Youth Group, told the Star. “I can’t believe any competent education institution is all right with that.”
“It is essentially religious shunning of children experiencing gender dysphoria,” Meli Barber, vice president of the LGBTQ+ Catholic group DignityUSA and a former director of religious education for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, told the paper. “It is based on ignorance and misconceptions that are not supported by contemporary science. I cannot imagine that Jesus would do this. I am sure he would reach out and say, ‘Let these children come to me.’”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said much of the policy is drawn from a Vatican document released last year called Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education. It condemned “public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender,” although of course most trans people would say their sense of gender was innate and not a choice.
“At the time it was published, we called this document ‘dangerous,’ and policies like this are one of the consequences we feared,” Duddy-Burke told the Star. She also objected to the secrecy surrounding the policy, saying, “Parents enrolling their children in Catholic schools will not have complete information about the school’s approach to issues of gender and sexual identity.”
The Indianapolis archdiocese has been involved in several controversies over LGBTQ+ issues in the past few years. At least four staffers at schools in the archdiocese have sued over the firing of employees who are in same-sex marriages, and one school was stripped of its Catholic identity after refusing to fire a teacher for that reason.