Does Pope’s Anti-Bullying Message Apply to the Church and LGBT Youth?

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New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.   REGISTER BY MARCH 27th to avoid a late fee. 

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Pope Francis exhorted youth to avoid bullying others last week, saying they must “promise Jesus to never bully.” But given the pope’s mixed record, does his message mean not to bully LGBTQ youth, too?

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Pope Francis at a youth gathering in Milan

Francis made the remarks at a youth rally in a Milan stadium filled with nearly 80,00 mostly young people. He was answering a catechist’s question about how educators, students, and families could communicate better. Crux reported that he told adults to be on the lookout for bullying, and then he addressed the youth:

“‘I ask you, in silence: in your schools, in your neighborhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?

“‘Think about this. This is called bullying. . .Understood? Promise me: never, never make fun of, never mock a friend, a neighbor, etc. Do you promise this?'”

It is good that the pope, a former teacher,  is concerned about the bullying which afflicts many youth worldwide.  Francis might consider a call to end bullying against particularly vulnerable demographics, including LGBTQ youth. But if he is really serious about helping to end bullying, he should examine the ways the Catholic Church can and has perpetuated it.

Though it is not universally true that Catholic officials have ignored or allowed bullying, a quick survey of incidents reveals how much harm church leaders have caused:

  • In England, a transgender student was shot with a BB gun by another student after the transgender student faced months of bullying at his Catholic school;
  • Parents have accused schools of ignoring the bullying against their children, including the parents of transgender student who was shot with a BB gun and the parents of New York teenager who died by suicide.
  • Bishops in Colombia thanked the government for dropping a resource aimed at helping educators know how to combat bullying against LGBT people;
  • An anti-bullying workshop was cancelled in Ireland after school officials said it did not present the unspecified “other side” of the issue;
  • The parents of a gay teenager who died by suicide in Colombia claimed it resulted after the school’s principal outed their son in front of others at the Catholic school;
  • Updated policies in the Diocese of Little Rock threatened students with expulsion if they come out as LGBTQ.

Catholic schools have also banned a gay student from a dance, expelled a lesbian student from prom for not wearing a dress, and refused to accommodate a trans student who was transitioning. Supportive Catholic educators have been fired in New Jersey, including Warren Hall who was fired for posting about the NOH8 campaign. [Note: Hall will be presenting a workshop on gay priests and religious at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]

In some of these incidents, educators and church officials acknowledged a mistake or worked to rectify the situation.  These, however, are not the only courses of action. There are concrete examples of how Catholic education can work against bullying and promote the flourishing of every student:

  • Teacher in Ontario’s Catholic schools marched in Pride in show of solidarity with their LGBTQ students;
  • Catholics have participated each year in National Coming Out Day and the anti-bullying initiative Spirit Day;
  • A priest in New York even declared 2014 the “Year of Lady Gaga,” (she attended Catholic schools) showing students how to have courage in their lives.

Students and their families are increasingly looking for not only welcome, but support for LGBTQ youth. Michael Maher, who authored the 2001 book Being Gay and Lesbian in a Catholic High School, has commented that since he began studying this issue, such expectations have increased dramatically. [Note: Maher will be offering a workshop on youth and young adults at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]

The problem of bullying is a question of life and death. Bullying leads to self-harm and death by suicide, and the presence of so many LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness attests to the impact bullying by family and friends can have.

These realities of suffering should move Pope Francis to amplify and specify his call to stop bullying. 2017’s diocesan- level World Youth Day programs, as well as the preparations for the 2018 synod on youth offer prime opportunities for him to do so. Before these steps, Francis should sit with his own directive to the youth in Milan, and see how it relates to LGBTQ youth and the church:

“‘Think in silence if you [bully], and if you are able to promise this to Jesus: Promise Jesus to never bully.'”

To explore all of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of youth and young adult issues, see our “Schools & Youth” and “Campus Chronicles” categories to the right.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 27, 2017

“The Benedict Option” and LGBT People, Part I

A controversial new book comes out this week, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which claims so-called orthodox Christians (including those defined, in large part, by a commitment to heteronormativity) should be prepared to withdraw from Western culture.

That proposed withdrawal, in the style of St. Benedict’s 6th-century withdrawal from a collapsing Roman Empire, is due largely to Western societies’ liberalizing views on gender and sexuality. The book’s description calls the social context today “a new, post-Christian barbarism.”

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Katie Grimes

Theologian Katie Grimes, who teaches at Villanova University, Pennsylvania, anticipates the book with an analysis of the very communities Dreher’s Benedict Option would leave behind, namely LGBT people.

Writing at the blog Women in Theology, Grimes said she neither wants to neither weigh-in on Dreher’s specific vocation nor review the yet unpublished book. Instead, she wants to “alleviate the fears that Dreher has expressed in blog posts and interviews,” where he has suggested LGBT rights threaten the religious liberty of orthodox Christians. Grimes described the author’s  fears:

“Dreher fears that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will encounter ‘hostile work conditions, including dismissal from your job.’ . . . that someday Christians who express public opposition to gay marriage will incur ‘all the legal sanctions that now apply to people who openly express racist views.’ . . . that orthodox Christians will not be allowed to own businesses unless they submit to serving LGBT customers. . . that someday progressive Christians ‘far in the future [will turn in orthodox Christians who have had to go into hiding].'”

Grimes points out that those very fears expose “the reality that LGBT people have already lived. . . proves much worse than the future Dreher fears.” Grimes continues:

“In addition to being fired, ridiculed, and hunted by state agents, LGBT people continue to endure evils that do not appear even in Dreher’s worst nightmares such as being beaten and killed, ostracized from and even kicked out of their families of origin, denied housing, unable to visit sick partners in hospitals, and disinherited. . .If LGBT people in this country experience less mistreatment today than in years past, it is in large part because they both need less protection from the culture and receive more protection from the state.”

Grimes is clear she does not want Dreher’s Christians, “should they become an endangered minority,” to face such discrimination and violence. They should be, in her words, treated as any other human being “in all its messy and beautiful complexity.”

Thus, she makes a series of solidarity commitments that include protesting if  “an employer fires you upon discovering that you are married to one woman and intend to remain so until death parts you” and defending them if “members of your same sex unleash a campaign of corrective rape aimed at changing your sexual orientation.” But, Grimes continued:

“Of course, Dreher does not fear that orthodox Christians will be in any way harmed for selecting a spouse in accordance with their sexual orientation or participating in a heterosexual, monogamous, and lifelong marriage. He fears only that orthodox Christians will somehow be punished for expressing their opposition to gay marriage in public. Put another way, Dreher resists a future in which orthodox Christians will have to selectively hide their true identity from certain employers, family members, and neighbors like LGBT people do.”

Using divorce and remarriage as an example, Grimes said liberalizing laws on these issues did not threaten Christians because divorced persons were assumed to be safe. Lack of discrimination and violence against them has meant they are not a protected class, unlike LGBT people, and meant further there has not been sharp pushback from divorced persons against Christians with differing views.

But for LGBT people, Grimes said Dreher “implies that orthodox Christian liberty necessarily would come at the expense of LGBT people’s lives. . .that the gay rights movement will inflict a mortal wound upon orthodox Christianity.” This is, however, not the case because “most people have turned towards LGBT people” rather than first rejecting heteronormative claims.

Finally, Grimes affirmed a way forward in which LGBT equality is ensured while right-wing Christians are respected:

“If orthodox Christians begin to treat LGBT people the way they currently treat divorced people, then it seems likely that progressives would treat orthodox Christians the way they currently treat people who condemn divorce.

“Dreher can do even more to secure the liberty of orthodox Christians living in parts of the world in which they no longer comprise the political or cultural majority by working to awaken the consciences of those who still do.  Orthodox Christianity ought to “own up” not just to its anti-gay past, but to its anti-gay present as well. The historical injustices Dreher laments continue to occur still today.  Dreher encourages other orthodox Christians to disengage/pull away from a society that will not let them speak freely, but what about those LGBT people who cannot hide from the orthodox Christians who remain in control?”

Grimes asked in conclusion, “Will orthodox Christians like Dreher pledge to do for LGBT people of all religious backgrounds what I have pledged to do for orthodox Christians?”

41qy2bzzazfl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Rod Dreher’s drastic proposal that Christians withdraw from Western society primarily over LGBT rights is understandably disputed. It will be interesting to see how reactions and responses evolve. But Katie Grimes’ anticipatory article does a good job of grounding the conversation in history and in the realities of LGBT people’s lives.

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will continue this conversation. In the meantime, whether you have read Dreher’s book or not, let us know what you think about the “Benedict Option” idea or Grimes’ response in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 21, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Former VP Joe Biden Criticizes Anti-Trans Bathroom Law Focus

Former Vice President Joe Biden has made an appeal for transgender youths’ well-being, involving himself in the national debate about on trans equality. Biden, the nation’s first Catholic vice president, adds his voice to other Catholics’ calls for respecting such youth and all trans persons.

Biden - Human DignityBiden, who is Catholic, said, “Every single solitary person, no matter who they were, was entitled to be treated with dignity,” according to The AdvocateHe continued:

“‘As much great work as we’ve done, we face some real challenges ahead. We thought things were moving in the right direction. . .But there’s a changing landscape out there, folks, and we have a hell of a lot of work to do.’

“‘Instead of focusing on the fact that 40 percent of the homeless youth on the street are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [and] rejected by their families out on the street, and what do we do about that, we’re now focusing on whether or not a transgender child, which bathroom they can use.'”

The misguided focus Biden identified is seen in North Carolina’s passage of HB2, an anti-trans bathroom law last year.  More recently, the Trump administration rescinded federal education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students. At the time, Catholic bishops applauded Trump’s decision, while some Catholic clergy offered mixed reactions to it.

Biden - Work to DoBiden made his remarks while receiving a humanitarian award from Help USA, a nonprofit that assists people experiencing homelessness.

As Vice President, he was a noted advocate for LGBT equality who once said trans rights were “the civil rights issue of our time.”  He vocally supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and he is credited with moving former President Barack Obama to support marriage equality. Biden even officiated at a staffer’s same-gender wedding in the vice presidential residence, despite bishops’ criticism. Biden has said that  the criteria for marriage he endorsed was, “Who do you love?

The former vice president’s recent address reflects the growing sentiments of many U.S. Catholics who support equal rights for transgender persons. In an op-ed for the Illinois Times.  John Freml, coordinator of Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic organizations that work for justice for LGBT people, appealed for more Catholics to become supporters for trans people. Freml was responding to “multiple falsehoods about transgender people” made by Springfield’s Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who said there is “no physical basis for a person claiming to be transgender” and that transitioning is immoral and medically suspect.

In making such claims, Freml said the bishop was “ignoring multiple studies indicating a biological basis for transgender identity due to physical differences in the brain” and “exposing his lack of understanding of the transgender experience and the fluidity of gender.” Paprocki’s claims also contradicted mainstream medical understandings. Freml stated:

“There is actually no definitive Catholic teaching on transgender identity. . .Our bishop insists that the church must ‘reject the false ideologies being promoted in our secular culture and stand for the truth revealed to us by God,’ but I challenge him to recognize the face of Jesus revealed in the transgender members of our human family. Perhaps these individuals have something to teach all of us: The common thread in the diversity of transgender experiences is that transgender people, and especially transgender Catholics, seek to overcome what they experience as a barrier to living, loving and interacting from an authentic place. They seek wholeness in body, mind and spirit, something that Jesus certainly affirmed in his own ministry.

“As Catholics, we too are called to offer healing and wholeness to the world. If we fail in this regard, then we fail to live up to what God expects from us.”

Each week, there are more and more examples of Catholics seeing Christ in transgender people and acting in solidarity. A Jesuit priest in Canada recently spoke out for transgender equality legislation. Catholics in India helped found a school for transgender youth. More theologians are exploring gender identity in positive ways.  Most recently, Fr. James Martin, SJ, spoke out in defense of transgender youth, in the midst of the U.S.’s latest “bathroom debate.”

The conversation about transgender issues in the Catholic Church is evolving, and it is exciting to see priests, politicians, and active lay people coming out in support of trans communities.

If you would like to engage the conversation more deeply, considering attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. There will be a focus session on “Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family,” featuring Deacon Raymond Dever and his trans daughter, Lexi, as well as intersex advocate Nicole Santamaria. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

You can find more of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of gender identity issues in our “Transgender” category to the right or by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 20, 2017

Anti-Transgender Bus Stalled in Spain; Catholic Prime Minister Attends Pride; Other International Updates

Here are some items that may be of interest:

Anti-Transgender Bus Impounded

a8a3650e0ead0895-e1488395586828A bus decorated with physically explicit anti-transgender messaging has been impounded in Madrid, per a judge’s ruling. Hazte Oir (translation: Hear Yourself), a Catholic group, owns the bus which was set to tour Spain with slogans like, “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled.” But until the offending messages are removed for violating a civil code against public advertising, the bus will remain in police custody.

Marriage Equality Sought in the Philippines
Due to its strong Catholic culture, the Philippines is the only nation besides the Holy See to ban divorce. This prohibition, coupled with difficulty attaining annulments, has led many Filipinos into long-term partnerships, including bearing children, that are not recognized by the state. Against this situation, LGBT activists have joined causes with persons seeking legalized divorces to attain reforms in marriage law.
Ariel Guban, a gay Catholic man in a relationship, said he believes in the sanctity of marriage, but as “as a union defined by common respect, acceptance and love—all of which are what gay people desire and are capable of giving.” Beyond legal protections and financial stability, allowing same-gender marriages Guban said:

“‘I will [probably] be able to better understand the concept of marriage and die knowing that I have been married, loved and enjoyed life without the undying threat of discrimination. Marriage is for everybody. It is not and should not be limited by gender preference.'”

Despite Catholic Opposition, U.S. LGBT Envoy Kept On
President Donald Trump will retain the U.S. special envoy for LGBTI rights, Randy Berry. Retaining Berry’s office was opposed by right-wing Christian groups, including some Catholics, who hoped the Trump administration would vacate former President Obama’s efforts towards global LGBT equality.
Catholic Prime Minister Attends “Big Gay Out”
New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English, a Catholic attended the nation’s largest pride celebration last month. English had been opposed laws proposing civil unions and marriage equality until changing his position in 2013. The pride celebration, known as the “Big Gay Out,” is now a mainstay on political calendars. English’s appearance comes after he softened his views on LGBT rights, and apologized for anti-equality votes. His National Party has moved to support equality in recent years as New Zealand voters became more supportive.
Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 11, 2017
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Vancouver Archbishop Objects to Franklin Graham’s Anti-LGBT Presence

Catholic LGBT issues have been making headlines in Canada. Here are three updates that may be of interest:

Archbishop Campaigns Against Franklin Graham

Former Presidents Bush And Clinton And Carter Attend Opening Of Billy Graham Library
Franklin Graham

Vancouver’s Archbishop Michael Miller joined other religious figures in opposing evangelical leader Franklin Graham’s attendance at a Christian gathering that happened in early March, reported The Washington Post. In an open letter, the leaders shared their concerns about anti-Muslim and anti-gay views held by the son of preacher Billy Graham, writing:

“Regrettably, Franklin Graham’s public comments appear to compromise Jesus’s mission of love and justice for all. He has made disparaging and uncharitable remarks about Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community, while portraying the election, administration and policies of US President Donald Trump as intrinsically aligned with the Christian Church.”

The letter cited, in particular, Graham’s comment that, because “the Enemy [Satan] wants to devour our homes,” LGBT people should be barred from churches and homes. Archbishop Miller and other leaders committed themselves to promoting the Christian faith as one that welcomes all people and seeks social justice.

Calgary Bishop to Retain Predecessor’s LGBT-Negative Approach to School Issues

Bishop William McGrattan, the new leader of the Catholic church in Calgary, Alberta, said he will maintain many of the policies from his predecessor, Fred Henry. Asked about LGBT issues, he told the Calgary Herald:

“With regard to gay-straight alliance, even that very terminology creates a sense of what I would say not an agenda but is promoting a certain lifestyle. In Ontario, we call that respecting differences so that we allow young people to know there are differences and that we need to respect those without labelling them with those particular terms.”

Some Albertans had hoped McGrattan’s arrival would be an opportunity for church leaders and LGBT communities to reset tense relations. But the new bishop said he “may not be as direct but I’ll be as firm” as Henry, who once described education policies that protect LGBT students as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”

Indeed, McGrattan told the Calgary Sun that proposed guidelines for transgender students in the province are based in gender theory which “is not truth,” and said gender transitioning “does not change the biological fact and truth of the individual.”

Officials in Catholic Education Claim Discrimination

Officials from several Catholic education systems in Alberta are complaining about a regional scholar’s criticisms of how church-affiliated schools are handling LGBTQ students. The Edmonton Sun reported:

“Two Catholic school district superintendents and two groups representing Catholic school boards and superintendents wrote to the university’s chancellor and president last fall to complain about comments made by educational policy studies professor Kristopher Wells regarding school board policies meant to protect LGBTQ students.”

Wells spoke out repeatedly during disputes in the last two years over LGBTQ guidelines being implemented in the province’s schools. In 2016, Wells released a “report card” evaluating four Catholic systems for their LGBTQ supports, all of which received either low or failing grades

Scholars, including the president of the University of Alberta where Wells is based, criticized Catholic education officials’ letters for trying to suppress academic freedom. The letters were disconcerting, Wells said, but would not silence him because “the issues at stake are far too important.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 14, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Sr. Simone Campbell: Vatican Concerned with ‘Male Power,’ Not Real People

Speaking yesterday at a Vatican event for International Women’s Day, Sr. Simone Campbell of NETWORK sharply criticized the Catholic hierarchy for being more concerned with retaining power than the realities of people’s lives.

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Sister Simone Campbell

Campbell addressed the Voices of Faith gathering, during which Catholic women from around the world share their stories under the banner of “All Voices Count.”

In her address, the sister behind “Nuns on the Bus” and who heads a national Catholic social justice lobbying group, referenced the resignation of clergy abuse survivor Marie Collins from Pope Francis’ commission addressing the church’s sexual abuse crisis. Campbell commented, according to Crux:

“‘The institution and the structure is frightened of change. . .These men worry more about the form and the institution than about real people. . . [Collins was blocked] by men. Isn’t this the real problem within the church?’

“‘The effort to keep the church from stopping this sort of thing is shocking. . .It is about male power and male image, not people’s stories. The real trouble is they have defined their power as spiritual leadership and they don’t have a clue about spiritual life.’

“‘Most of the guys who run this place haven’t dealt with an ordinary human being who’s been abused, an ordinary woman or a boy who has been abused. . .If you don’t deal with the people you don’t have your heart broken open. The bureaucracy is so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.'”

Pointing out  the absence of any senior Curial officials at the women’s gathering, Campbell said she was unsure “if it’s a slap in the face or evidence of how much power they think we have.” That Campbell was invited at all is noteworthy, given NETWORK, the lobbying and education organization she leads, was one of the identified factors in the Vatican’s 2012 doctrinal investigation of U.S. women religious.

Though not directed at LGBT equality, Campbell’s words are easily applicable to matters of gender identity and sexuality in the church. The lives and voices of LGBT people have also been discredited and silenced by the Magisterium, whose present articulation of the Tradition is deeply tainted by patriarchy and homophobia.

Campbell provided a strong explanation for the hierarchical disconnect: the failure and/or inability of many clergy to have healthy relationships with those who are not like themselves. In her words, they are “so afraid of having their heart broken that they hide.” Even in more forward-leaning gatherings formally sanctioned by the Vatican, like this Voices of Faith event yesterday or the Synod on the Family process, openly LGBT people have not been invited to share their stories.

But perhaps church leaders are right to be afraid of listening to the stories of people they marginalize, for these experiences possess a radical transformative power. The person who is “Other” makes a claim on the listener, compelling them to act for the good of that person to whom they have listened. Indeed, Maltese Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo has admitted it was meetings with the Catholic parents of LGBT children which helped shift his thinking on LGBT topics, and prompted him to make a speech at the Synod on the Family calling for greater LGBT inclusion.

Scripture’s most repeated exhortation to us is to “be not afraid!” I congratulate Sr. Simone for having the courage and wisdom to speak such prophetic truth within the Vatican itself. I pray her words will resound in church leaders’ minds and hearts, so they choose to listen and to be moved by people marginalized for their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS will lead a retreat preceding New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Other prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 9, 2017

 

Trans Student Honored for Making Catholic Schools More Inclusive

In the same week that the U.S. Catholic bishops praised President Trump for revoking guidelines to protect transgender students, across the border in Canada, a trans teen was honored for bringing equality to her Catholic school.

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Tru, center, with her mother, Michelle, right

Tru Wilson, 13, a resident of the suburb of Ladner, was named a Sexual Health Champion by Options for Sexual Health, a nonprofit agency in Vancouver. The Georgia Straight reported:

“[Wilson’s] family filed a human-rights complaint when Ladner’s Sacred Heart [school] refused to allow her to attend as a girl. As a result, the Catholic Independent Schools Vancouver became one of the first Catholic school boards in North America to change their policy to support gender expression and identity.”

During an awards breakfast, the teen described what transitioning had been like, saying, “I just want acceptance. . .It’s so strange that it’s hard. Why does it have to be hard?” She discussed invasive questions she has been asked and, through tears, about losing a close friend whose family would not accept her.

Tru was honored, in part, for the positive change she and her family were able to effect in Vancouver’s Catholic schools. In 2014, when she began transitioning at age 10, Sacred Heart Elementary School barred Tru from dressing in the female uniform, using female restrooms, or being called by her preferred name. Doug Lousen, the Catholic schools superintendent at the time, said “you cannot just change your sex.”

But the Wilsons, having overcome their own struggles with Tru’s coming out, did not accept Sacred Heart’s discrimination. They filed a human rights complaint against the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese, settling for an undisclosed amount and the adoption of a new transgender education policy by the Archdiocese.

That policy, believed to be the first such policy for Catholic schools in North America, allows trans students to use their preferred pronouns, as well as wear the uniform and use the restroom associated with their gender identity. Transgender students are able to file for accommodations and work with a pastoral team of medical, spiritual, and educational experts to create individualized plans for each student.

But, there has been a downside. The Archdiocese claimed that church teaching stopped schools from supporting students who medically transition. And it has not quickly become the “template” the Wilson’s lawyer had hoped it would become in Catholic education. Disputes over LGBTQ student policies have been fierce in the neighboring province of Alberta. Lastly, Tru never returned to Catholic schools, and religion has become a mixed blessing for the Wilsons. Michelle explained during the breakfast:

“‘We thought that we could kind of ignore the aspects of the faith that we didn’t necessarily agree with and take advantage of all the really good things about it. . .For me, [this experience has] reinforced that there are some great things about faith and there are some really sad things that people use to pit people each other because of faith.”

Unfortunately, as in Tru Wilson’s case, LGBTQ youth too often experience these negative aspects of faith. A trans student at a Catholic school in England was shot with a BB gun after months of bullying. In the U.S., federal guidelines aimed at protecting trans students were repealed by the Trump administration last month.

But through the steady and courageous work of people like Tru Wilson and her parents, positive changes are happening. Catholic officials should do their part to expedite such changes by preemptively adopting supportive policies for trans students like Vancouver’s.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 6, 2017