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LGBTQI Catholic Group Denounces “Unspeakably Cruel” Ban on Transgender Students in Indianapolis

June 24, 2020. New directives from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that ban some transgender students from Catholic schools are being called “unspeakably cruel” and “based on ignorance and misconceptions” by leaders of the LGBTQI Catholic group DignityUSA. A policy released to archdiocesan employees on June 17 says that children who have legally, chemically, or surgically changed their gender from that assigned at birth may not be enrolled in Catholic schools.

Meli Barber, DignityUSA’s Vice President and a former Director of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis said, “This policy is unspeakably cruel to children and families. It is essentially religious shunning of children experiencing gender dysphoria. It is based on ignorance and misconceptions that are not supported by contemporary science. I cannot imagine that Jesus would do this. I am sure he would reach out and say, ‘Let these children come to me.’ I am deeply, deeply embarrassed that my former employer has chosen exclusion over welcome. That is not the Catholic Church I felt called to serve.”

Barber continued, “The school staff and administrators that I know from my work in the Archdiocese are profoundly committed to the dignity of every human being, and to the tradition of Catholic service to all. I know they are struggling with actions and policies the Archdiocese has taken in recent years that marginalize gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. They see how wrong, how unchristian this is, and the pain it is causing individuals, families, school communities and parishes. Archdiocesan leadership has chosen to engage in culture wars rather than ministry. That is shameful.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA’s Executive Director, noted that much of this policy is drawn from guidance given to Catholic educators in 2019 in a Vatican document called “Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a Path of Dialogue on Gender Theory in Education.” Duddy Burke said: “At the time it was published, we called this document ‘dangerous,’ and policies like this are one of the consequences we feared. As we said then, ‘this statement reinforces the Vatican’s entrenchment in a simplistic and outdated ideology of biological determinism. From the very title, Church leaders are perpetuating a vision of humanity that fails to respect the diversity of human experience. This document fundamentally disregards and disrespects LGBTQI people by claiming our gender identity and sexual orientation are simply ‘choices.’ It denies the truth of our experience of gender and sexuality as innate, God-given blessings. The Vatican’s stubborn refusal to reconsider its stale vision of gender complementarity as the exclusive basis for human identity and relationships in the light of decades of contrary scientific findings and personal testimony from millions is tragic.’

Duddy- Burke continued: ‘It is also disturbing that the Archdiocese explicitly says that this policy is not to be included in school handbooks or other public documents. The secrecy surrounding this is extremely problematic. Parents enrolling their children in Catholic schools will not have complete information about the school’s approach to issues of gender and sexual identity. As many children come to understand their gender identity fairly early in life, this could mean they will face damaging discrimination in their educational process.’”

Duddy-Burke noted that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has terminated a number of school faculty and staff members in recent years due to their marriage to same-sex partners, and tried to strip a Jesuit high school of its Catholic identity when it refused to fire a married gay teacher. 

Barber said, “I don’t think that Archbishop Thompson understands how many Catholics in this Archdiocese are pained by this dehumanization of LGBTQI people—members of their families, admired teachers and counselors, beloved friends and neighbors. We expect better of our church, and we are working hard to ensure that LGBTQI people know that the Archbishop’s actions are not consistent with what we believe. Every one of these attacks strengthens our resolve to continue transforming our church and working for the day when every human is welcomed and affirmed regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

DignityUSA strongly believes that this harmful policy needs to be rescinded and is calling on the Archdiocese to do so.