My home Diocese of Cleveland has the unfortunate distinction of being among the most recent dioceses to enact policies harmful to LGBTQ young people and their families. On August 30, the diocese issued a new “Parish and School Special Policy on Sexual and Gender Identity Issues.”
While not denying LGBTQ youth access to diocesan schools, the directives essentially prohibit any expression of their identity. They ban the expression of LGBTQ pride and the use of gender pronouns as well as gender-affirming health care. They require use of bathrooms and clothing appropriate to a person’s biological sex. Parish and school staff have a duty to inform parents if a child has confided that they may be transgender.
The policy affects about 40,000 students in five diocesan high schools and 79 elementary schools. It applies “to all offices, parishes, parochial schools and diocesan schools… as well as employees, staff, volunteers, students and young people involved in faith formation of the parish or organization.”
Public outcry was immediate. The LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland described this as “dangerous” for LGBT youth and a “huge step backward” in creating an inclusive community.
Political leaders vehemently protested: “As a Christian, the diocese’s policy is a shocking betrayal of the church teachings that have shaped me into who I am today.” , Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb said. “The new policy forces LGBTQ kids to hide who they are and go to school for fear of being mistreated for who they are.”
Councilmember Kerry McCormack wrote, “I attended [diocesan] school. I had many wonderful teachers who taught me about an almighty God. … This politically motivated decision will harm young people in our local parochial schools and further alienate the church.”
Regina Brett, a former Catholic and retired journalist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who often writes about her faith, offered a scathing critique: “This new policy is a form of spiritual abuse.” The Church is creating new ways to shame, intimidate, and control people.” . A church should be a refuge from all this hate and fear. Opposite. No, I did not leave the Church. The Church has left me. And it just gives everyone else more reason to leave.”
Cleveland is one of the most Catholic cities, with Catholicism being the most common religion (28.6% of residents) in Cuyahoga County, where the diocese is located.
I am extremely grateful that this regressive new policy does not apply to the 14 Catholic high schools operated by religious orders, including St. Joseph Academy, a ministry sponsored by the Congregation of St. Joseph of I. After consulting with board members, academy leaders quickly sent a letter to parents describing the school’s intention to continue to attract LGBTQ students based on “principles of emotional unity.” love and concern for the well-being of students, in cooperation with parents/guardians”.
Noting that the school is “guided by the Congregation of St. Joseph’s commitments on this issue,” school leaders explicitly cited my congregation’s public commitment to be an ally to the LGBTQ community . Several other religious schools in Cleveland responded similarly.
In my more than 30 years as a Catholic nun, I have rarely been more proud and grateful than to be a Sister of St. Joseph.
About 10 years ago, my church began to realize how we were called to walk alongside our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We have spent considerable time learning about recent scientific insights into human sexuality and the many ways that LGBTQ sexuality manifests and manifests within our human family.
School leaders cited my church’s public commitment to being an ally to the LGBTQ community. In my more than 30 years as a Catholic nun, I have rarely been more proud and grateful than to be a Sister of St. Joseph.
Yes, we learned about pronouns, but mostly we learned about people who find themselves mistreated and marginalized because of the embodiment God gave them. We learned the startling statistics about the rates of attempted suicide or self-harm among LGBTQ teens and adults.
We choose to be allies to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because our charism moves us to live the truth that love of God and love of neighbor are one. As a result, we have participated in a range of activities, from attending Pride festivals and parades to joining Catholic bishops in supporting the Tyler Clementi Foundation in support of at-risk LGBT youth. opportunity in our country.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the series of anti-LGBTQ policies promulgated by Catholic dioceses is the repeated assumption that all human beings are born male or female and that gender identity belongs to one person. people must conform to their “God-given biological sex”. Genesis 1:27 is often quoted.
It’s not that simple.
According to the InterACT organization, consider that 1.7% of babies born in the US have intersex characteristics that can occur both internally and externally. Are intersex people also created by God?
Then there are transgender people, whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth based solely on genitalia. A Pew Research Center survey estimates they make up 1.6% of the US population. Transgender people and intersex people are not the same. (Remember I said this isn’t simple, it’s complicated!)
What is not complicated is that the theology used by the leadership of the Catholic church holds that humans are male or female and the two will never meet. Contemporary science says otherwise. An in-depth 2019 Scientific American article summarized the extensive research findings that “sexuality is anything but binary” and concluded: “Transgender people represent complexity and diversity. form which are fundamental features of life, evolution and nature itself. That is the truth.”
Aaron Demlow, a 25-year-old transgender man and former Catholic, describes what it means for us to fail to celebrate complexity and diversity: “Jesus would be offended if our children He, that He created in His image, is being suffocated and that their colors are being turned grey, extinguished and forced to fit into these two rigid boxes. I feel like this is a slap in the face of his creativity.”
Here, my scope is not to delve deeper into the weeds of contemporary science and stubborn religion, but to lament the Catholic bishops’ refusal to consider scientific data and the experience of faithful LGBTQ Catholics and their allies.
I appreciate how difficult it is to adjust one’s worldview. That is exactly why diocesan leaders must stop creating policy from within their comfortable bubbles.
They must consult with those who know something about the actually living people who are most affected and most likely to be harmed. How many LGBTQ people are invited to help craft Cleveland policy? Are any health care workers, psychologists, and doctors who regularly treat LGBT people invited to participate?
Apparently, the diocese did not even invite the perspectives of Catholic high schools. KC McKenna, principal of St. Edward, sponsored by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, said the school was not aware of and had not been consulted about the directives.
This is a really bad way to develop policy, especially in a synodal moment with a pope interested in including everyone. I wish that the Diocese of Cleveland, indeed all American dioceses, would follow the more enlightened guidelines recently issued by the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, after extensive consultation.
I am sorry that Cleveland’s policies have hurt our LGBTQ young people. They deserve so much better.
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