There’s not much of the Catholic Catechism’s call for “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” toward LGBT people in Arkansas’ Catholic schools’ new policies which enforce the idea that LGBT youth should remain closeted and quiet.
Directives about LGBT topics are part of changes made this year to the Catholic Schools Policy Manual for the Diocese of Little Rock, which covers the entire state of Arkansas. Regarding sexual orientation, the Manual says:
“Students may not advocate, celebrate, or express same-sex attraction in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction in the context of Catholic school classes, activities, or events. When discussing homosexuality or homosexual inclinations, the use of the term ‘same-sex attraction’ is preferred, as it is a more appropriate description in accordance with the truths of Catholic faith and morals.”
In a section titled “Gender Dysphoria (Transgenderism),” the Manual said students should conduct themselves “in a manner consistent with their biological sex.” Schools will treat students similarly when it comes to restroom use, uniforms, school dances, and more. The Manual continued:
“If a student’s expression of gender, sexual identity, or sexuality should cause confusion or disruption at the school, or if it should mislead others, cause scandal, or have the potential for causing scandal, then the matter will first be discussed with the student and his/her parents. If the issue is not resolved to the satisfaction of the school, whose primary goal must always be to uphold Catholic truths and principles, then the student may be dismissed from the school, after the parents are first given the opportunity to withdraw the student from the school.”
The Manual states that, even if alumni procure legal name changes, any documents will be issued in the following way, “Original Name, n.k.a. New Legal Name” (“n.k.a.” stands for “now known as”) These policies will affect over 6,700 students in the diocese’s 27 Catholic schools, reported THV 11.
The diocese is defending these policies by saying they adhere to church teaching and preserve Catholic identity, but students, alumni, and parents disagree. Katy Simmons, a parent of a student at Catholic High School for Boys, Little Rock, said the Manual “does not convey the message I want my son to learn.” A current student, who remained anonymous, described the Manual as “non-Christ-like and discriminatory” and said the diocese should be “much more merciful about this.”
Recent graduate Tyler Gibbons, a gay student who was part of the first same-gender couple welcomed to Catholic High School for Boys’ prom, said the school was “where [LGBT peers] felt safe” to find who they are and what they seek in life. But that is no longer the case because there is now “fear of being reprimanded by the diocese.”
Sarah Vestal, another alumna of Catholic High School for Boys, told THV 11 she believes that the diocese’s directives are partly responding to her, as she is the school’s first transgender graduate:
” ‘I came out and came back for my 40th high school reunion last year. So, they had to face me for the first time.’ . . . Vestal said she and Bishop Taylor had ideas about which bathroom she should be allowed to use. She said Taylor also will not allow her to have a copy of her diploma with her new name. . .Vestal and others said they have spoken to Taylor directly, and he has refused to remove the addendum.”
Tippi McCullough, who was fired in 2013 from Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock because she married her wife, said that if the diocese does not “want to bring scandal against your school, then don’t do things that discriminate against children.”
Some Catholic schools have instituted policies which restrict LGBT youth, such as banning same-gender prom dates or using biological sex in official documents. A Catholic high school in Rhode Island even attempted to ban transgender students, though that decision was withdrawn after alumni protested.
But the Arkansas policies seem wholly different in scope and intensity. The Manual explicitly eliminates almost every support that might be offered to LGBT students, and then goes further to stifle students’ expression. Threatening expulsion for students who even “have the potential for causing scandal” is pastorally-insensitive and damaging to student’s development.
These policies were clearly not written by people with expertise in education, adolescent development, LGBT issues, or even church teaching. Admonitions to only use “same-sex attraction” contradicts the pope, who has used the word “gay” when speaking about homosexuality. These policies may be enforcing a set of values, but those values are not Catholic.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry