Des Moines bishop explains why diocese has new gender identity policies at schools, churches
Bishop William Joensen said the directives aim to answer a question: "How do we support people but also be true to what we believe Jesus is asking of us?"
The Diocese of Des Moines' new gender identity policies, which prohibit staff, students and parishioners from using their preferred pronouns, are in effect at its 80 churches and 17 Catholic schools.
The policies, posted online in a six-page document Monday, the day they went into effect, require people to follow the dress code and use the bathrooms or locker rooms that match their sex at birth. They also say students must participate in school sports, activities or programs "consistent" with their biological sex and that no one can have or distribute medication that aids in gender reassignment while at Diocese of Des Moines parishes, schools, organizations and institutions.
There are four hospitals that fall under the diocese. Bishop William Joensen clarified those facilities are not bound by the policies but he hopes "they would see this as valuable."
Joensen told the Des Moines Register the document has been two years in the making. John Robbins, communications director for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, previously told the Register the archdiocese did not issue a directive on the policies and is "not party" to the document.
Why did the Diocese of Des Moines issue the policies?
Joensen said the policies were created to provide Catholic school employees and church staff and leaders direction to address the growing number of questions on gender identity. He said he launched a task force of about 10 to 12 people, including teachers from area Catholic schools, to map out the policies. The task force also looked to some clinical psychologists and spoke to families who have children experiencing gender dysphoria to better understand what they're going through, he added.
Joensen said the policies are meant "to serve our people" and "give them some clarity," as well as answer a bigger question: "How do we support people but also be true to what we believe Jesus is asking of us?"
According to the document, the diocese says people coping with gender dysphoria should be treated "with personal sensitivity, compassion, patience and pastoral solicitude" and "all forms of unjust discrimination and harsh treatment must be strongly avoided and corrected."
But it also notes that "any response that merely ratifies and reinforces the perceived disconnect between biological sex and gender affiliation is not genuine compassion."
What do LGBTQ+ leaders have to say about the diocese's policies?
Local LGBTQ+ leaders and other faith leaders have condemned the diocese for its newest rules, calling them hateful and harmful, especially toward transgender Iowans.
"Policies such as not allowing someone to use the pronoun for which they identify, restricting access to bathrooms based on the sex at birth rather than a person’s gender identity, and not allowing physician-prescribed medication is simply wrong," Connie Ryan, executive director of the nonprofit Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, said in a statement earlier this month.
Courtney Reyes, executive director of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group One Iowa, said the diocesan policies deny transgender people "the identity and respect afforded to every other member of the church."
"No other members have to fight to be called the correct name, have their correct pronouns used, or receive access to the appropriate restroom," Reyes said in a statement earlier this month. "Calling this 'compassion' is equivalent to confusing 'hate' with 'love.' You cannot pretend to be compassionate while misgendering people and denying them access to any and all spaces under your control."
Joensen said he isn't surprised to hear the pushback from different organizations but said there are "different visions of what contributes to human flourishing."
He said there is one keyword that is crucial to the diocese's policies — "ministry."
"This is our educational mission that we believe comes from Jesus' charge to us in the Gospel," Joensen said.