On May 13th, the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Education issued a joint directive to public school districts, regarding the rights afforded to students identifying as transgender.
The section following the “Sex-Segregated Activities and Facilities” is of course what has people talking. For it is here, under the heading Restrooms and Locker Rooms, where we read that a school “may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.” (Emphasis mine.)
As a parent with seven children presently enrolled in public schools, this is more than a little disconcerting to me. Although it has certainly not been an issue for us yet, I am now aware that the federal government would have my sons and daughters dressing in locker rooms among peers of the opposite sex. That this does not at all give the civil rights divisions of the DOJ and DOE pause is particularly baffling, because what about the rights of my children?
I will confess, though, that what I ultimately find most heartbreaking is the utter confusion that reigns among young people today, particularly when it comes to their sexuality. Amidst all of the (well-deserved) objections to such short-sighted and dangerous government policies, we Catholics must also take care not to lose sight of the fact that people are lacking and grappling for answers to the questions of, “what does it mean to be created as a man?”, and “what does it mean to be created as a woman?”
That is of course not to say that there aren’t those who struggle–due to any number of factors, and I suspect the factors are many–with things like gender identity and sexual orientation. As Catholics we certainly must seek to love, extend mercy, and acknowledge the dignity of each and every human person, especially persons in the margins of society, or who are prone to experiencing feelings of worthlessness. Statistically speaking, men and women who are transgendered are more likely to battle depression, suicidal ideation, and to be victims of violence. But it is also true, as Pope Francis writes in Amoris Letitia, that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated” (no. 56). This reality must not be obscured or overlooked, and the bishops are right to point out that the federal government has essentially short-circuited some crucial elements of this important conversation.
So what is a parent like me to do in this cultural age of brokenness and confusion? In addition to protecting the privacy of my children (if and when we cross this bridge at their respective schools), I must all the more continue instructing them in the ways of our Lord. I will take them to Mass and tell them they are desperately loved by Jesus. I will encourage them to love, respect, and engage others. When we see an employee at the store who is clearly transgendered, and my twelve-year-old daughter asks if it’s a boy or a girl (yes, this really did happen a few months ago), I’ll tell her once again of God’s beautiful plan for men, women, marriage, and the good of society. I’ll remind her about the dignity and value inherent in every single person, regardless how that person struggles. We’ll talk about being charitable, and about seeing Jesus in the faces of those she encounters.
And, I will take Pope Francis’ words to heart when he writes that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 285). I’ll do my best to cultivate a healthy, God-centered, realistic body image in my children, and to listen to their questions, doubts and concerns–and then reply with both humility and honesty. The beautiful thing is that as Catholics, even amidst the messiness of the world, we can look to the future with confidence and hope. Why? Because we not only have the Sacraments, but also the truth: that Jesus came to save and redeem, that God is perfect love, and that we are each of us created, male and female, in His image.