New policy may exclude transgender students from 60-plus Catholic schools in Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS — A new policy by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis could impact transgender students at more than 60 schools in central and southern Indiana.

On June 8, Archbishop signed the “Policy and Complementary Norms on Sexual Identity in School Ministries of the Roman Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.” The eight-page document says the policy focuses on when the “gender-identity is in conflict with the sexual identity.” It gives schools governed by the archdiocese guidance on how to address students who do not follow their biological sexual identity.

The policy calls on their institutions, including schools, to assist, support and accompany persons in their individual psychological and emotional struggles. It calls the alternation of a child’s gender either chemically, surgically or both is understood in Catholic moral terms as “mutilation.” It also notes he/she is deserving of dignity as a child of God when the person decides to partake in such alteration.

“The truth of human sexuality as ‘male’ and ‘female’ belongs to the very core teaching of Christianity on the human person,” stated the document.

The guidance says a student will be requested to withdraw from the school “if a student or parent acts to legally change the student’s ‘gender’ or chemically or surgically alter the student’s given biology.” Students may not be eligible for enrollment because of the same thing.

According to the policy, “students who are experiencing confusion regarding their sexual identity may be admitted as long as they are open to the accompaniment and the teaching of the Church.”

The policy is already receiving some criticism.

“When an institution supports an arbitrary idea that somebody can’t express themselves how they want, there is going to be a mental health crisis procured,” said Dominic Conover, president of Shelly’s Voice.

Shelly’s Voice was created after guidance counselor Shelly Fitzgerald was suspended in 2018 from Roncalli High School because of her same-sex marriage. Fitzgerald was fired that school year. Lynn Starkey, another guidance counselor at Roncalli, was also fired. The school said both women were let go because a same-sex marriage violated their contracts. Kelley Fisher, a social worker at the school, claims she was fired because of her continuous advocacy and support of Starkey, Fitzgerald and the students she served.

“We had a few openly and courageously visible transgender students, but I know they often experienced a lot of bullying for who they were,” said Conover.

Meli Barber is the national vice president of Dignity USA and a former director of religious education for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. She left a few years ago before proposing to her wife.

“I do not think this is what Jesus would do,” said Barber. “We see in the scripture over and over again Jesus says let the children come to me. Wouldn’t he want the children to come to his schools?”

A comment from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis says the safety and welfare of each student is a priority. It also states “the Archdiocese’s goal is to always walk in accompaniment with young people and their families. Such accompaniment may result in provision of resources, accommodations and/or other supports in alignment with church teaching.”

The document says the Archdiocesan Consultation Team (ACT) is a group of professionals from a broad range of disciplines who will assist in the accompaniment of young people. According to the policy, the school administrator is asked to contact ACT when “an individual experiences confusion regarding his/her sexual identity.” The ACT will provide potential accommodations, resources and supports that have been properly vetted in alignment with the Church’s teachings, according to the document.

The guidance also lists practices which include following dress code expectations, using pronouns correlated to the student’s biological sexual identity and using restrooms that align with a person’s biological sex.

“At the state level, there is no Indiana law that protects against discrimination in education, employment, public accommodations, etc., based on gender identity,” said Steve Sanders, a professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

Sanders said the Constitution is not involved in this situation since these are private institutions. He can not see any legal impediment to the policy.

“Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, has a specific exemption for religious schools that engage in discrimination based on religious beliefs, and so assuming the church would argue that its ban on transgender students stems from religious tenets about gender and sexuality, I don’t believe Title IX would apply here,” he said.

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