Saturday, December 19, 2015

New Ways Ministry on Belmont Abbey College's Discrimination Against Transgender Individuals: "Undermining Catholic Education and an Approach to Gender That Is Rooted in the Gospel "

As wild hair reports in a comment here this morning, New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 blog has now published a statement about Belmont Abbey College's request to receive Title IX funds while discriminating against transgender folks. Writing for Bondings, Bob Shine notes that Belmont Abbey has attracted the negative attention of various LGBT groups that combat discrimination against LGBT people.

One of these is Campus Pride. Bob quotes Shane Windmeyer of Campus Pride, a Catholic, regarding Belmont Abbey's request to continue receiving federal funds while violating federal non-discrimination regulations:

Families and young people deserve to know that this list of schools are not loving, welcoming, safe spaces to live, learn and grow — and taxpayers should definitely not have to pay for a private college to openly discriminate against anyone.

And then Bob concludes,

For all Belmont Abbey College’s claims about Catholic identity, it misrepresents church teaching on gender identity. 
There is no clearly articulated teaching on gender transition or on the gender norms the College seeks to enforce. While a clear doctrinal affirmation may not yet exist regarding gender identity questions, there are no clear prohibitions either. London’s Monsignor Keith Barltrop, tasked with LGBTQI outreach by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, has even said gender identity issues are a pastoral, not doctrinal, issue and the church should support those individuals who decided to transition. Other Catholic colleges, such as Georgetown University or Fordham University, have established supports for trans students consistent with a Catholic identity. One student, Lexi Dever, claimed Georgetown saved her life because it welcomed and nourished her as a trans student. 
Belmont Abbey officials are obviously unaware that their policy is not supported by Catholic teaching, as they claim. In fact, their policy is undermining Catholic education and an approach to gender that is rooted in the Gospel and seeks the good for each and every student. Students at Belmont Abbey College deserve an apology. The Catholic faith, in whose name this exemption was claimed, demands better.

At Slate, Mark Joseph Stern also took note yesterday of the growing number of church-affiliated colleges and universities requesting "right-to-discriminate" exemptions while continuing to take federal Title IX funds. He writes, 

The deal here should be simple: The universities maintain their religious identities and teachings, but they must follow certain ground rules since they are partly financed by taxpayers. One basic stipulation: Colleges that receive federal money are supposed to comply with Title IX—which, as interpreted by the Department of Education, bars discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. 
This agreement held firm for decades: Since Congress passed Title IX in 1972, relatively few colleges have asked for a waiver permitting them to resume sex discrimination on religious grounds. Recently however, that number has skyrocketed: Forty-three colleges have applied for such exemptions in 2015 alone, and 22 of those have already been approved. (The exemption-granting process is inexcusably opaque; BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden deserves great credit for squeezing these numbers out of the DOE.) The number of colleges applying for, and receiving, exemptions seems to have spiked when the DOE got serious about enforcing rules against anti-gay, anti-trans discrimination.

Stern also points out that Dominic Holden finds the 2015 applications for these "right-to-discriminate" exemptions "increasingly similar in their language and formula" — a clear indicator that they're cookie-cutter applications crafted by right-wing anti-LGBT groups seeking to chip away at laws protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination. And an indicator that, in the name of serving their religious values, these colleges and universities are willingly lending their names and are yielding their religious identities to a right-wing political cause that, in the final analysis, may have little to do with their core religious values . . . .

The centrist Catholic journal Commonweal has hosted a recent discussion of transgender issues, by the way, in response to an essay by Rand Richards Cooper entitled "The Transgender Moment." As Julia Marley points out in the thread responding to Cooper, his essay walks a middle line that will ultimately frustrate those committed to seeking greater understanding and affirmation of transgender people. It walks the typical "on the one hand, on the other hand" line that Commonweal always walks with regard to LGBT issues and LGBT lives.

While Cooper proposes a stance of humility as "we" approach transgender issues, he also suggests  — a suggestion that runs through Commonweal's editorial statements about LGBT issues and LGBT lives — that the movement to normalize homosexuality or transgender may be a manifestation of an all-about-me individualism that is fraying the bonds of the common good in developed societies. Maybe the stance of the Catholic community should be to oppose such social fragmentation rooted in atomistic individualism gone wild. Maybe trans people are seeking illicitly to manipulate nature to serve their own selfish whims. These arguments have been right at the center of Commonweal's refusal unambiguously and decisively to endorse the right of gay people to civil marriage.

This typical Commonweal centrist approach to LGBT issues and LGBT lives leaves the door open for places like Belmont Abbey College to claim that they adequately and faithfully represent "the" Catholic position, and it leaves the door open for Commonweal-type centrists to make common cause with places like Belmont Abbey in the name of preserving core Catholic values, while distancing themselves from transgender people and their struggles for dignity and human rights.

It would be refreshing, just once, to hear the folks running Catholic journals like Commonweal, who tend to be overwhelmingly white, affluent, and heterosexual, reflect in a probing critical way about precisely how heterosexual power and privilege informs so much of their centrist perspective on LGBT issues and LGBT lives — a perspective that moves not in the direction of understanding the struggles of those on the margins and listening respectfully to their testimony about their own self-understanding, but towards self-congratulation and the conclusion that one's own hermetically sealed, privileged club represents the norm by which everyone else in the world is to be judged.

(Please see these preceding postings on the Belmont Abbey "right-to-discriminate" story — here and here.)

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