After Trans Student Shot, Catholic School Shifts Course

A British Catholic school is attempting to make itself a safer space after a transgender girl student was shot with a BB gun by another student. Though the school has responded with some positive steps, this horrifying incident is a reminder of the urgency with which Catholic education needs to become safer for LGBT students.

safe-schools_0A transgender girl in Manchester, England, was shot by a classmate after months of severe bullying, and just two days after the girl’s mother met with school officials about a previous bullying incident.

G, a pseudonym for the 11-year-old girl, had endured five months of harrassment and threats, according to her mother, identified as A. Gay Star News reported:

“Last Monday, G’s mother A was called into school following a ‘distressing’ incident [wherein students had written a series of anti-transgender slurs on her notebook, which we have chosen to omit here]. . .

“The previous day, A said she had sent an email to staff about the escalating bullying. While she was bullied a little at primary, it got a lot worse when she joined secondary school. And she believes that email was ignored.

“‘Pupils have thrown water over her, spat at her, and kicked her to the ground. Not a day goes by without her being attacked, insulted or threatened with violence,’ her mother said.”

A said she told school officials that “something bad was going to happen,” and she faulted them for doing little to intervene against the bullying. When G was shot, her mother said the school did not notify A for over an hour. When she arrived at school, A found her daughter “extremely quiet, just shaking and not speaking.”

Though the physical harm was minimal, the emotional wounds of these incidents have left G in pain. She is unable to sleep because of nightmares, and she has vocalized thoughts about suicide. The family is seeking supports for her. A explained that it has been very clear since her daughter’s coming out that they would need to work hard to ensure G does not become one of the many transgender youth who die prematurely from violence or by suicide.

The Catholic school, which has gone unnamed in news reports, is now taking steps to educate students and staff towards creating a safer environment, reported the Manchester Evening News. The headteacher said the student who fired the BB gun has been expelled. In a statement, the headteacher said:

“The victim is a transgender pupil and sadly there have been incidents of bullying before this latest incident. We have worked with our pupils to respect and accept people of different sexual orientation and identities and will continue to do this. We have enlisted the support of a national organisation to help us further with our training of staff and pupils and support for our transgender pupils. We have met with the parents of the pupil to apologise and to see what we can do further as a school.”

These efforts have included inviting Stonewall, an LGBT organization in England, to do trainings for members of the school community. But school officials should not stop there or lessen their commitment to LGBT students. The mother was clear that the intense bullying G experienced is because of her gender, saying, “It is a hate of who she is and it is awful.”

At least one other British Catholic school has worked with Stonewall, the United Kingdom’s leading LGBT equality group, to make schools safer.  As Bondings 2.0 noted when we reported this news in 2013, such a relationship between a religious group and a secular group is a model for how the Church and the LGBT community could work together.

On a related note, a transgender student Mason Catrambone, who was rejected by a Catholic high school in New Jersey last year, recently began classes at a public school that welcomes him.

During National Catholic Schools Week in January, we featured an Australian gay man who thanked his Catholic school for helping him come out and feel affirmed. While this is not the experience of many LGBT Students, and certainly G has suffered greatly at a Catholic school, it is helpful to remember that the church’s education programs can be a source of tremendous good if done in welcoming and affirming ways.

For now, let us pray that G finds healing and can return, as she hopes to do, to her Catholic school — a place where, increasingly, every student is safe, welcomed, and affirmed.

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” will include a focus session on, “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions,” led by campus minister and researcher Michael Maher.  We will also host a focus session on “Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family,” featuring Deacon Ray Dever, Lexi Dever, and Nicole Santamaria. The symposium is scheduled for April 28–30, 2017, in Chicago.  For more information, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2017

Gay Alum Thanks Catholic School for Being “A Haven” for Him

National Catholic Schools Week begins today in the United States, a celebration of the church’s educational programs. In past years during this week, I have written about the need for Catholic schools to increase their supports of LGBTQ youth. You can read those commentaries here, here, and here. But this year, I want to highlight an Australian writer’s story about the good an inclusive Catholic school can do for LGBTQ students.

13-1420csw_logo_circle_cmykIn The Sydney Morning Herald, Joel Meares wrote about a new movement in Australia, Equal Voices, in which Christians are apologizing for the harm done by churches to LGBT people.of his gratitude for the Catholic school he attended, a place he called “a haven.” He elaborated on this topic by describing his childhood experiences with the people of faith:

“And yet the apology comes as no surprise to me. The Christians in my life – those in the pews who don’t make, nor seek, headlines – have been some of the most supportive people I’ve known. Of course they want to say sorry: it’s the Christian thing to do. . .As some of them get ready to say sorry this March, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you.”

Meares shared about his time at the Catholic school, a place he landed because his parents did not want to send their children to public schools but could not afford more elite private schools. While the family was not religious, Meares said, “from Monday to Friday I was an evangelistic little Tracy Flick, biro in hand and halo on head.” He continued:

“I was also very gay. I didn’t realise this at the time – I was quite late to my own coming-out party – but I already ticked all of the cliche boxes. . .If my teachers had eyes and ears, they knew I was different. And these same teachers – not members of the clergy, but many of them laypeople of deep faith – were profoundly nurturing of that difference. . .And I was always protected.”

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Joel Maeres

No longer a practicing Catholic, except for “when I have to get up for the Eucharist at a wedding,” Meares remains grateful for the way he was educated by the church. He wrote:

“But I’ve always liked core Christian values, particularly the simple ‘golden rule’ I was taught back in [kindergarten]: ‘Treat others the way you like to be treated.’

“I know it’s not everyone’s story – and I know others whose time at religious schools was far less rosy – but I was able to grow up different and safe and proud because the people around me also subscribed to that idea.

“I don’t see much of that sentiment when I scan the statements of church leadership when it comes to LGBTQI issues today. But the Equal Voices apology is a reminder of the kinds of Christians who helped shape me growing up. These people put into quiet practice so much of what is beautiful about the religion, and did very little preaching as they went.”

These last words mirror a statement made recently by the head of Scotland’s Catholic school system, who said the church’s educational programs were to “propose the gospel, not impose the gospel.” Sadly, for too many LGBTQ students, faith-affiliated schools are places where they experience the Gospels being preached more than practiced. Either through direct harm or not providing adequate supports, Catholic schools have too often failed to be safe places.

This year’s theme for National Catholic Schools Week is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.” Joel Meares’ positive story gives educators a source of inspiration for what can be achieved when Catholic education is done well and inclusively, inviting students to faith, educating them well, and instilling in them Christian values.

Ultimately, the goal should be for every LGBT student who passes through the Catholic education system to be able to offer a story of gratitude similar to Joel Meares’ experiences.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 29, 2017

Catholic Schools in Scotland to Have LGBT Safe Spaces

To better support LGBT students, every secondary Catholic school in Scotland will soon have a safe space available, reported The Herald.

logoBarbara Coupar, who directors the Scottish Catholic Education Service, announced the move after a legislator complained that some existing measures were deficient. The Herald explained:

“[Coupar] added many teachers did not feel equipped to become counsellors for pupils regardless of the problem, so schools were making sure teachers and students know where the pupils can go for help inside and outside the school.

“She said: ‘That’s why we’re going to down this avenue of ensuring that within all of our Catholic secondary schools that they would be able to go to someone, a trusted adult, a safe space within the school, where there would be someone who would have had that opportunity to be trained, for want of a better word, in order to be able to meet the needs of the young people in their care.'”

These remarks come after criticism by Christina McKelvie, a legislator who convenes the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of Scotland’s Parliament. Concerned by input from Catholic school students that some LGBT peers had died by suicide, McKelvie said:

“‘A lot of young people have told me some horrendous stories about how PSE [personal and social education classes] is used, especially going down a moralistic route as well, where a lot of young people feel really backed into a corner where they thought their thoughts and feelings were not being respected.’

“She said she had heard teachers are ‘not equipped’ to deal with LGBTI issues or misogyny ‘because either it’s dealt with as a moralistic issue or it’s something that they don’t believe in’.”

McKelvie acknowledged that Catholic education in Scotland had instances of both “brilliant” and “disturbing” support for LGBT youth. She explained that the government wants to make sure students feel protected:

“‘What we are looking for is if there’s a belief issue there, what we want is for teachers to be able to handle that, and if they can’t, for whatever reason, they’re equipped to signpost those kids to the right places for those kids to get that support. . .to address that without making young people feel as if they are committing a sin.'”

Coupar’s announcement comes several months after the Service promised trainings for teachers to become competent on matters of gender and sexuality. And she affirmed the Scottish church’s commitment to education that is inclusive and support for all students, saying the aim was to “propose the gospel, not impose the gospel.”

With National Catholic Schools Week in the United States beginning this Sunday, the creation of an LGBT safe space and trained educator in every Catholic school would be an attainable and highly effective initiative. Every Catholic school should make a commitment in 2017 similar to the one made by Scottish Catholics.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 26, 2017

Catholics in India Help Found New School for Transgender Students

Catholic ministers in India recently formed a group to offer pastoral care for transgender people, reported ucanews.com, and they are already making an impact by helping to found a new school for trans students.

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Attendees, including Catholic religious, at the opening ceremony for Sahaj International School

Clergy, religious, and lay people in the Indian state of Kerala have joined together to establish “one of the few outreach programs for the transgender community by the institutional church in India.”

According to Fr. Paul Madassey, head of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council’s Pro-Life Support ministry, under which the transgender initiative is carried out, transgender people in the state are particularly vulnerable. Sex traffickers in northern India prey on trans people who are discriminated against and economically disadvantaged.

Fr. Madassey explained that the transgender initiative had been inspired by Pope Francis’ call to accompany the LGBT community and that “the whole church has a big role to play” in providing such pastoral support.

One project by the group has been helping found a new school inclusive of trans people called Sahaj International School. It opened last week with ten students seeking their high school certificate. Catch News explained further:

“Led by six [transgender people] from TransIndia Foundation with activist Vijayaraja Mallika at the helm, the school promises to provide residential facilities for a short period, free textbooks, gender neutral toilets, a meal for those in need, and tuition to pass Class X and XII. . .

“Mallika says that zir [a gender-neutral possessive pronoun] efforts are focused on introducing inclusive education. . .[Mallika said] ‘We are providing them a safe space for security and sustainable education.'”

The need for such a school is immense. Of the estimated 25,000 trans people in the state of Kerala, 57% did not complete a high school education, according to Mallika. There are also issues of social discrimination, family rejection, and derogatory language.

Mallika, who previously worked on transgender pastoral care with the Archdiocese of Bombay, said the church has been “very supportive” and that “[r]eligion plays an important role in social and behavioral change at the grass-roots level.” The church’s role in the school was instrumental, according to ucanews.com:

“In mid-December, Sisters of the Congregation of Mother Carmel offered their buildings to form an exclusive school for dropouts among transgender people, considered the first of its kind in the country.

“The nuns offered their venue after at least 50 building owners declined to let out their buildings, indicating the discrimination prevalent in the society, says Father Madassey.”

This work in Kerala comes quickly after Caritas India, the official development agency of the nation’s bishops, announced it would be initiating more transgender-inclusive policies and outreach programs. Though Caritas India’s approach is not perfect, the announcement of the program is a key moment for the global church.

The Catholic Church in India is widely respected for charitable efforts, despite Catholics being less than two percent of the nation’s population. The church has been a positive voice for LGBT communities, too, as when Bombay’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias twice spoke against the criminalization of gay people. In an exclusive interview with Bondings 2.0, Gracias said that the church embraces, wants, and needs LGBT people. Virginia Saldanha, an Indian lay woman who formerly led the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, said the 2015 Synod on the Family needed to bring LGBT “in from the cold.

Earlier this week, I suggested that findings from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey were a helpful pastoral examination for all Catholics about our awareness of and advocacy for trans equality in the church. These efforts in India are helpful models, too, for how the church can and should be responding to the urgent pastoral needs of trans communities — and how we can become more receptive of the gifts and contributions which trans Catholics are making to our church’s mission.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 5, 2017

 

For Third Time, Court Rejects Catholic School’s Motion to Dismiss Discrimination Suit

A New Jersey Catholic school’s motion to dismiss the discrimination lawsuit it faces from a fired lesbian employee has again been dismissed.

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Kate Drumgoole, right, and her wife, Jaclyn Vanore

The motion, filed by co-defendants Paramus Catholic High School and the Archdiocese of Newark, was denied by a New Jersey state appeals court. This means a lawsuit filed against them by former Paramus Catholic dean Kate Drumgoole can proceed.

Drumgoole sued the school in August after being fired earlier this year when the archdiocese became aware of her same-gender marriage with Jaclyn Vanore. NJ.com reported:

“[Drumgoole] alleges she was discriminated against by the archdiocese, the school and its president after it was revealed that she was married to a woman.

“The school admitted in a legal motion that she was fired because of her marriage, but argued it didn’t violate state rules because church employees must abide by the Catholic faith.”

This is the third time a joint Paramus Catholic-Archdiocese of Newark motion to dismiss the lawsuit has been rejected by New Jersey courts.

In October, a judge rejected the argument that the defendants were exempt as religious institutions from the New Jersey Laws Against Discrimination (NJLAD), saying a ruling on whether such an exemption applies could not yet be made.

The case will likely come down to whether Paramus Catholic and the Archdiocese are exempt from the states’ employment non-discrimination exemptions, based on whether Drumgoole is legally considered a minister. The defendants have admitted outright that Drumgoole, a former guidance counselor and basketball coach, was fired because she entered a civil marriage with her wife.

The discovery period which can now finally proceed will allow for a determination of whether the exemption applies or not. A finding may be quickly followed by a resolution.

A recent editorial from The Record said it seems as if Kate Drumgoole’s discrimination suit “has been going on for years, but in reality, it has only barely begun.” The editors commented further:

“Whether Drumgoole’s team can prove its case – although we have held she should not have been terminated – Drumgoole’s case deserves to be heard in a court of law. Individuals who believe they have been wrongfully terminated have the right to seek legal redress, to take their case to a court, to have the justice system weigh the merits.

“Despite efforts by the school and the archdiocese to seek dismissal, a Superior Court judge, and now a state appeals court, have both concluded that Drumgoole’s case has enough merit to keep moving forward. Only by proceeding to discovery can a clearer picture begin to be drawn in the case of an abrupt firing of someone who, from all appearances, seemed to be a model employee and representative of the school.”

Drumgoole’s case sparked a number of related controversies in the local Newark church this fall. Fr. Warren Hall, an archdiocesan priest, was suspended from priestly duties in part because of his support for Drumgoole.  The school’s principal was suspended from work for a few days, and the school’s president still remains suspended. Over 3000 school community members signed a petition protesting Drumgoole’s firing.

A particularly troubling aspect of this firing is that church officials only became aware of the marriage after an estranged family member of Lenore’s sent photos of the couples to them. Drumgoole’s job description does not seem ministerial, and it would seem fitting that she be protected by LGBT non-discrimination laws. Whatever the court’s ruling, it will not change two facts. First, church officials allowed a family wound to be exploited by them to cause further harm. Second, they are defending their discrimination against an LGBT person by claiming a religious exemption. While that maybe legally correct, the Catholic tradition does not support such discrimination.

Instead of waiting on a court’s ruling, Newark’s new Cardinal Joseph Tobin should end the legal defense, admit a discriminatory mistake was made, apologize to Drumgoole, her wife, and Catholics generally, and see how reconciliation can now be attained. Such actions initiated by Tobin, who was appointed by Pope Francis, would be a clear indication that the exclusionary style and actions of his predecessor, Archbishop John Myers, are no more. And that is Good News which Newark’s Catholics very much need to hear this Christmas.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 20, 2016

 

Catholic School Apologizes to, Accommodates Transgender Student

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Lily Madigan

A Catholic school which had suspended a transgender student for wearing a uniform consistent with her gender has apologized and implemented new accommodations.

St. Simon Stock Catholic School in Kent, England, apologized to student Lily Madigan. The school said in a letter that she may wear a female uniform and use female restrooms and locker rooms, reported the Daily Mail.

Madigan was sent home and threatened with suspension in March for wearing the “wrong uniform,” having worn a female uniform to school as part of her transition. School officials told the student she would not only be forced to wear a male uniform, but would have to use male restrooms and be called by her legal name, Liam. Madigan said wearing a female-appropriate uniform as part of her transition “made me feel so happy, until I was sent home,” and told Buzzfeed:

” ‘It made me feel that something was wrong with me. You think maybe you’re the problem. It’s alienating. You think school is supposed to be there for you and when that happens it breaks your trust.’ “

A meeting with Madigan, wearing the male uniform, her mother, and school officials was unsuccessful at resolving the situation. She was presented with, in her words, “an ultimatum” from the school which told her to either comply with their policies or leave. Unable to leave, Madigan wore a male uniform for several weeks which caused her depression to worsen and energy to weaken.

Responding to the school’s decision, Madigan organized a Change.org petition and received support from more than 200 classmates. That petition stated, in part:

” ‘Transgender students make up some of the most vulnerable students in schools. . . Changing these policies wouldn’t affect other students but not doing so clearly and greatly affects trans students.

“The school already has an equality and diversity policy (created in response to the equality act 2010) so treating us equality should be a no issue. . .This is about trans people presenting how they feel they should be, how they want people to see them, to recognise themselves when they catch their reflection.”

Madigan also retained a lawyer who reminded school officials of the UK’s Human Rights Act and 2010 Equality Act, which says no one may be discriminated against “because of their gender reassignment as a transsexual.” The Act has over authority over the Catholic school because it is state-funded, and it seems efforts by the law firm which took the case pro-bono were key to the reversal.

In addition to the apology and accommodations for Madigan, school staff will receive training on transgender issues. St. Simon Stock’s spokesperson said supporting trans students “is an important issue for us, as for schools up and down the country.” They continued:

” ‘As an inclusive, Catholic academy, we are confident that the attention we have given to transgender, including carefully listening to students, has been invaluable in us going even further to make sure all students are happy and comfortable, so that they can be as successful as possible.’ “

Madigan was pleased with the school’s decision, but said she “felt it was something I shouldn’t have had to fight so hard for, if at all” and further:

” ‘I’m encouraged in that I’ve seen what I’m capable of achieving and I’m proud, but I’m not encouraged about the school’s attitude to equality.’ “

It is unfortunate when politics about school uniforms and gendered spaces impair Catholic education from enacting its true mission, which is the formation and flourishing of its students. Lily’s initially painful story is reminiscent of other extreme decisions here in the U.S. In the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, a new policy threatens LGBT students with expulsion for coming out.  And earlier this year in Pennsylvania, a Catholic high school ejected a lesbian student  from prom because she wore a suit.

Policies are about matters such as wearing pants or a skirt are only important to the degree in which they harm students. Nothing in church teaching mandates clothing along a gender binary, and church teaching would actually affirm helping students become their authentic selves. Efforts to police gender are becoming outdated, and Catholic schools should give up these attempts to suppress the signs of the times in favor of supporting every student.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 22, 2016

Don’t Forget! Spirit Day is THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016!

By Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2016spiritdayatcatholicschool_facebook

What is Spirit Day?

It is an annual national event reminding schools to confront anti-LGBT bullying and bias. Click here for more info from GLAAD.

When is it? 

THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016.

What happens? What can I do?

Wear as many purple clothes as you can on Thursday, October 20th. The display of purple will show that you are against anti-LGBT discrimination and you support your LGBT students, faculty, and staff. Wearing purple will show you want to have a safe and inclusive school! 

What if I am a student and have a dress code or uniform?

If you can’t wear a purple shirt or skirt/pants/dress, your school might allow you to wear a purple sweater, a ribbon pinned to your shirt, or a bracelet that is made of anything purple (ribbon, yarn, etc.). If you are comfortable, you could ask your parents for advice. Or, you can usually find your school’s dress code online if you Google your school’s name and “dress code” or “uniform.” If your school allows a non-uniform sweater and/or jewelry, wear them in purple!

What about social media? What should I post?

Spread the word! Share this page with your friends and teachers.

Use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools, @NewWaysMinistry and @GLAAD on all your social media posts and photos to join our new hashtag campaign. It will help you find fellow LGBT and ally students, faculty, and staff at Catholic schools while helping them find you!

Share our social media banner (download here).

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Post our social media image (download here). 

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Follow @NewWaysMinistry on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Use GLAAD’s app (iPhone & Andriod) to make your profile pictures purple.

Important!

We know we’ve said this a lot, but don’t forget to use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools for all your Spirit Day photos! This hashtag is new and making it go viral can bring attention to the work needed at Catholic schools. You can join this new social media trend!

Want to find out more? Need help explaining Spirit Day to others or to your school? Wondering about the Catholic school context?

Download and print this resource from New Ways Ministry explaining Spirit Day from a Catholic perspective! (PDF download available here).

Click here for our original post calling Catholics to participate in Spirit Day 2016.