For US bishops, Pope Francis brings clarity to transgender issues
Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter's Square, Dec. 16, 2015. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
“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’,” the bishops said, quoting the words of Pope Francis in his 2016 exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia.”
“Children, youth, and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect,” the bishops said. “All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents.”
They said the new federal guidance “does not even attempt to achieve this balance.” It ignores ongoing political and cultural discussion about how to address these sensitive issues and “short-circuits those discussions entirely.”
The U.S. bishops’ May 16 statement was authored by Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and by Archbishop George Lucas, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education.
The federal guidance from the Department of Justice and Department of Education was announced in a May 13 letter sent to all school districts. The guidance tells every public school in the country to allow students who identify as transgender to use the facilities – including restrooms and locker rooms – that match their “gender identity.”
“A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so,” the guidance said. It added “a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.”
The guidance may also affect sex-segregated athletics.
Although the federal guidance does not have the force of law, it implicitly threatens schools that do not comply with lawsuits or a loss of federal aid, according to the New York Times.
The guidance cited Title IX civil rights protections and said it intends to provide “a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students.” It claimed that federal anti-discrimination provisions exclude discrimination on the basis of a student’s “transgender status.”
Under the guidance, schools must treat a child according to a new gender identity as soon as the child’s parent or legal guardian asserts it. The guidance does not require a medical diagnosis to support the stated gender identity.
For the purpose of Title IX compliance, the federal departments said they “treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex.” The guidance said gender identity is “an individual’s internal sense of gender” that may differ from “the person’s sex assigned at birth.”
But the U.S. bishops cited Pope Francis’ caution that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.”
The federal guidance cited previous Title IX investigations that commit school staff and contractors to “use pronouns and names consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity.”
In addition, the guidance included a 25-page document of “emerging practices” in place around the country, such as privacy curtains or allowing students to change in bathroom stalls.
The U.S. bishops said the Catholic Church “consistently affirms the inherent dignity of each and every human person and advocates for the wellbeing of all people, particularly the most vulnerable.”
“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. Children should always be and feel safe and secure and know they are loved,” they continued.
The bishops added that they intended to study the guidance further.
“We pray that the government make room for more just and compassionate approaches and policies in this sensitive area, in order to serve the good of all students and parents, as well as the common good