Gender policies hurting Catholic school sports

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Michael F. Haverluck (

football team prayer (Air Force Academy)Athletic directors at Catholic high schools argue gender ideology policies that compromise their schools’ faith are also hindering their success on the field.

Catholic schools and bishops are challenging a policy  enforced by a state athletic association in Nebraska that permits high school students to play sports according to their gender identity — not their actual sex, The Cardinal Newman Society reports.

Holy Family Academy Athletic Director Patrick Storey, who runs the school’s sports program in Manassas, Virginia, says the new gender policies are sweeping the nation and will not stay confined to any state.

‘[E]very single diocesan school across the country will eventually be confronted with new guidelines allowing student athletes to compete according to gender identity,” the concerned sports program leader shared with the Newman Society in an interview. “I certainly think that attempts to change the traditional understanding of athletic competition to allow biological males to compete against biological females (or vice-versa) would absolutely endanger the purpose of Catholic athletic programs. At our school, athletics have many purposes. Playing sports builds school spirit, teaches lessons of discipline and makes the high school experience more fun. But on a deeper level, Catholic education is always aiming at forming each individual student to become who they are meant to be by acquiring the virtues of body, mind and spirit.”

A Closer LookStorey, whose school is an Honor Roll School of Excellence, insists that gender politics in sports programs on school campuses runs contrary to everything faith-based athletes believe about their God-given abilities.

“Young men and young women, by developing skills and sacrificing their time for certain goals, can become more fully who they are and who God made them to be,” he continued. That is why Christian athletes often thank God for their gifts when interviewed after competition. [Young athletes are] very aware that they were able to win the race, or the game because they actualized the gifts given to them by God, but God’s gifts to us would have to be based on the way he made us. Our biological reality is given to us by God.”

Lincoln Pius X High School Athletic Director Tim Aylward is also wary of gender identity policies harming sports on his Nebraska campus, which is also an Honor Roll School of Excellence. He fears the same for numerous other schools across the nation and says that every diocese will be faced with dealing with the issue — soon.

“It may not be long until many schools will compete against a team that has a transgender athlete,” Aylward insisted. “It’s my hope that all schools, public or Catholic, would use athletics as another piece of the educational process, and focus on more than just trying to win every game. There are so many benefits, and life lessons that can be learned from athletic involvement in high school. Values of hard work, perseverance, team work, humility, sacrifice, commitment and sportsmanship to name a few. Through learning these values we want to help our students become productive adults, and also help our students become good Catholics. As a Catholic school we can talk about how these values pertain to our faith, and can be used to strengthen our faith.”

Detrimental in more ways than one

However, LGBT-friendly gender policies are feared by bishops in Nebraska who believe that they can be highly detrimental to the development and faith of the youth generation.

“It would be unjust to allow a harmful and deceptive gender ideology to shape either what is taught or how activities are conducted in our schools,” Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island wrote in a joint statement. “This would certainly have a negative impact on students’ and society’s attitudes towards the fundamental nature of the human person and the family.”

The Newman Society’s Adam Cassandra explains that Catholic leadership has exhorted parents to challenge the spread and enforcement of the problematic polices.

“In Nebraska, the bishops urged schools and parents to support a ‘sex on the certificate at birth’ proposal before the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) that would ‘formally adopt the current NSAA practice that students participate according to their sex at birth,’” Cassandra informed. “In votes taken on January 6 and January 13, four of the six NSAA districts voted to approve the ‘sex at birth’ proposal, but the NSAA Board of Directors went ahead and adopted a policy allowing high school students to participate in sports based on their preferred gender identity. Those opposed to the gender identity policy will have to wait until April 8 for a chance to overturn it at the NSAA Representative Assembly meeting, where the ‘sex at birth’ bylaw proposal will be up for a vote.”

This adoption did not sit well with the bishops.

“[We are] dismayed [by the Board’s decision] and call for every effort [to reverse the new policy],” the bishops stated. “[The decision] circumvents the will of the voting members expressed in the democratic process that was recently completed.”

In an opinion piece published before the decision, Conley outlined the dangers presented to teens by implementing the new progressive gender policy.

“Encouraging young people to redefine their identities in significant ways, according to their emotions, preferences or curiosities, is an act of irresponsibility on the part of adults entrusted with their formation,” Conley wrote in the Lincoln Journal Star. “Very little is known scientifically about gender dysphoria, and the medical profession has yet to determine even its cause. Endorsing ‘gender reassignment,’ especially for children and adolescents who are likely to transition out of gender dysphoria with no intervention, is not a responsible public policy approach to the condition. There is no other dysphoric state in which the ordinary course of action is to endorse or facilitate a person’s disconnect from the objective facts of their existence. To endorse confusion about reality, especially in young people, whose preferences and perceptions are often transitory, will not lead to finding greater happiness. Truth — even when it is difficult — is the path of peace, happiness, and joy. … [T]hose who experience gender dysphoria are worthy of respect and support. But natural-born sex is the only participation criterion that is fair, safe, and supportive of the needs and rights of all Nebraska’s students.”

Unsettled business

After lobbying for the bishops, leaders of the Nebraska Catholic Conference announced that the way the new gender policy is administered by NSAA member schools “will be determined by the respective dioceses.” The NCC said it remains to be seen how and when the policies will be carried out.

Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC) Executive Director Jason Adkins also expresses uncertainty about the implementation of the policy that was adopted last fall. His group says that in December 2014, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) passed a transgender student athlete policy.

“[The 2014 policy has] the main effect of allowing boys who identify as girls to play on girls’ athletic teams,” the MCC states. “The Minnesota Catholic Conference opposed the policy as imprudent, and one that will not serve the well-being of those students experiencing gender dysphoria.”

Adkins argues that the policy flies in the face of his group’s biblical beliefs and worldview.

“Our firm position is that a policy, such as this one, that rejects the reality that we are created male and female, and thus, by extension, rejects the Creator and his creation, is both harmful to the persons it is designed to support, as well as to all of society, by promoting a worldview that imposes a barrier to human flourishing,” the director explained during his testimony at an MSHSL hearing over the policy. “Compassion is not permissiveness. True love and compassion sometimes means saying no to harmful things that people want to do to themselves.”

So far, the drafts of newly amended and proposed policies are not up to par.

“Early draft versions of the policy applied to all MSHSL member schools,” Adkins said, according to the Newman Society. “After numerous draft policies, the MSHSL ultimately exempted nonpublic schools from the mandates of the policy (both verbally and in writing). [The exemption] is admittedly not as clear as it should be.”

Adkins impressed his organization’s stance on the issue — that faith-based schools should and will not be punished for holding to the following policies: “1) Not admitting transgender students into the student body; 2) Mandating that student extracurricular and athletic participation be conducted consistent with one’s biological sex at birth, rather than preferred gender identity and 3) Refusing to allow biological boys from entering girls’ facilities and vice versa (even if these students are from a different school).”

He is still waiting to see how the challenge pans out.

“We have not heard of any further developments or clarifications of the policy, and continue to closely monitor any challenges or problems that may arise due to the current policy’s implementation,” Adkins shared. “Thus far, our understanding is that Catholic schools have not been affected.” 

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