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Alumni Condemn Catholic School’s Exclusion of Trans Students

Mount Saint Charles

'Bathroom panic' may well have struck again in a Catholic prep school's claim that it cannot accept transgender students.

Update: According to David Coletta, the alumnus of Mount Saint Charles Academy who started a petition to change the school's trans-exclusionary policy, on March 9 the school has removed the bigoted policy from its 2016-17 handbook. On the petition's website, Coletta says the following:

"Mar 9, 2016 -- Hello, all! Mount has taken down the policy about not admitting transgender students, and have uploaded their new student handbook which includes no mention of a ban on transgender students. Huge thank you to everyone who signed and shared the petition. The concerned alumni group will now be handling meetings with the administration to determine what needs to be done and move forward in a positive way."

Alumni of Mount Saint Charles Academy, a 92-year-old private Catholic junior-senior preparatory school in Woonsocket, R.I., are criticizing their alma mater for excluding transgender students in the latest edition of the school's Parent-Student Handbook, according to GoLocalProv.

"Mount Saint Charles Academy is unable to make accommodations for transgender students. Therefore, MSC does not accept transgender students nor is MSC able to continue to enroll students who identify as transgender," the handbook says in a section pertaining to its "philosophy of admissions."

No other group except transgender students appears to be specifically singled out for exclusion in the school's new admissions policy. While it mentions "race, color, national origin or ethnic background," the school's handbook does not include gender or sexuality among its protected attributes in the nondiscrimination statement within its handbook. At this time it is unknown whether any currently enrolled transgender students have been expelled from the school under its new policy.

"Leave the hateful rhetoric in the past, accept trans students," says the alumni petition. David Coletta, a 2009 graduate of the school, recently started a petition when he discovered that the school had added the exclusionary policy to its updated handbook last October. The petition is only a few names short of reaching its goal of 1,500 signatures -- that's nearly twice the size of the average enrollment of 850 students at the school.

While the petition has not prompted the school to change its policy, it has certainly gotten school officials' attention. On Friday, the school released an official "Statement Regarding Transgender Students at MSC" that reads in part:

"Although the school has not been approached with any requests to admit transgender students, Mount Saint Charles Academy's administration has been exploring ways in which it might provide reasonable accommodations for transgender students and fulfill its mission.

"While Mount Saint Charles can respect that some may find our current policy somewhat inconsistent and intolerant, please try to understand the reason for its existence. This is certainly not our intent. Please know that we would very much like to address the issue, and your prayers and kind assistance would go a long way in allowing us achieve that goal."

Chief among its reasons for excluding transgender students is the school's contention that its "facilities may not be adequate to service some students." In the statement, the school also says that "it is not a comprehensive high school with the ability to serve all students. Some students may not be academically qualified. Others may have learning plans which the school cannot accommodate."

The school's exclusionary policy comes amid heightened tensions surrounding whether some North American K-12 Catholic schools should allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms, play on sports teams, or participate in activities that comport with their gender identity and expression.

Borrowing language from the "gay panic defenses" often used by attorneys as justifications to harm gay and lesbian people, trans advocates have described the outsize tensions that lead institutions to exclude transgender individuals from bathrooms that comport with their gender as "bathroom panics."

Last year the Edmonton Catholic School Board in Canada's Alberta province adopted a policy that some observers called a limited license to discriminate against transgender people. While he did not outright ban transgender students from schools in his jurisdiction, last month Archbishop Robert Carlson wrote to Catholic parishes in St. Louis denouncing the Girl Scouts of America for its support for transgender scouts and LGBT causes.

"We were always taught there to be very accepting and loving of others," Coletta told The Daily Beast, noting that the MSC's policy is "completely different than how they teach their students to behave."

If the petition does not sway Mount Saint Charles to change its policy, then perhaps the alumni's push to raise money to support trans-inclusive policies will. Brendan DeBeasi, another Mount Saint Charles alumnus, created a GoFundMe page to raise money to help the school "designate areas of locker rooms that are safe for transgender students; designate safe bathrooms for transgender students to use; and develop policies that will educate faculty on the LGBTQ+ movement," as the page says. In one day, the fundraising effort is already well on its way of reaching its goal with $4000 pledged of its $5000 goal.

While some Catholic high schools maintain trans-exclusionary practices, the tide may well be turning for many Catholic colleges and universities. Last December a report from New Ways Ministry, a LGBTQ-affirming Catholic advocacy organization, cited significant advances for trans inclusion within Catholic colleges, including Fordham University's introduction of "all-gender restrooms."

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