by Beth Garascia
As Catholic parents of LGBT children, the members of the Fortunate Families board believe that Catholic schools are tasked with bringing understanding and respect to all students. The leaders in those institutions are charged, not only with teaching Catholic doctrine concerning the gift of sexuality, but also with guiding students, some of whom may feel isolated and confused by their “differentness,” at a very critical time of their growth.
While the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, got many things right with regard to this critical issue in the human sexuality section of their manual, we ask that they reconsider some of the statements in the document. In section 4.42(1) the document describes the experiences of same sex attraction and gender dysphoria as a struggle. All teens make a journey of self discovery, part of which is integrating their sexuality with their spirituality. In the case of our LGBT children, one of the most important responses a teacher can make is, as the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative’s “Resource for Educators” states, to "listen, be non-judgmental, and remind them of God's love for all."
The Little Rock Diocese would do well to express an attitude of understanding such as this in its document. Same sex attraction and gender dysphoria can be wonderful gifts. In section 4.42(3) the manual states that sexual displays of affection will not be tolerated. It therefore seems unjust and condescending to restate, in section 4.42(4) that students “may not advocate, celebrate, or express same sex attraction in such a way as to cause confusion or distraction.” It’s not clear why a same sex attraction would cause more of a distraction than an opposite sex attraction and seems therefore unnecessary. Section 4.42(5) is titled gender dysphoria (transgenderism). These two terms describe different phenomena. Gender dysphoria is a feeling that one's birth gender does not match one's felt experience. Not all people who experience gender dysphoria go on to say that they are transgender. To equate the two is to confuse the issue and minimize the experience of many who feel confused and anxious about their experience of themselves.
If the primary goal of a Catholic education is to lead all children, gay or straight, into the loving embrace of Christ, the diocese of Little Rock would do well to change the tone of this document to a more accepting one, emphasizing understanding and growth into sexual maturity rather than school documents being issued in conformity with a student’s biological sex. Such details can be worked out on a case by case basis. A more positive tone encourages school leaders to have a positive impact on the lives of their students so they grow to become more fully integrated people.