‘Navigating The Transgender Debate’ — Policy, Pastoral, and Theological Approaches

By Dustin Siggins Published on September 9, 2018

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples must be allowed to “marry.” Three-and-a-half years later, the LGBT movement’s ascendancy in America includes “transgender” policies and culture.

How should Christians respond to this radical and rapid change? On Thursday, three experts offered answers. The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson — author of “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment — talked with Catholic University of America professor of theology John Grabowski and the university’s chaplain Fr. Jude DeAngelo. It was first event of the school year for university’s Institute for Human Ecology.

The Stream executive editor Jay Richards moderated the event. He also on the business faculty at the university.

Anderson: Gender Activists Go After Toddlers

Anderson first looked at the 60-year history of the gender-identity movement. Johns Hopkins University first opened a “sex reassignment” department in the 1950s. That department closed after studies in the 1970s showed that people who received such treatments did not benefit from them.

85 to 90 percent of children outgrow confusion, Anderson noted. People who undergo gender surgery are 19 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. An Obama-era report which said studies which support gender-activism tend to be worse than those to the contrary.

Despite this, he observed, activists have doubled down. The first gender identity clinic for children opened in Boston in 2007. Forty-four more have opened since.

There are four steps in the activist agenda, said Anderson. The first is to tell parents that children as young as three “should start living as the opposite sex.” The second is to stop teens from going through puberty in the “wrong body” using hormone blockers. The third is to use cross-sex hormones on a teen who is not changing even as classmates develop into adults. The fourth is surgery.

Contradictory Policy Concerns

Anderson described four major areas of public policy. The first two go hand-in-hand. A “gender unicorn” is introduced at schools. Later, sex-specific bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams are opened to both sexes. The changes to sex-segregated areas ignore major questions, he continued: whether gender is “based on biology or based on identity,” as well as that “if based on identity, what criteria” will be used?

He pointed to education, civil rights, and LGBT groups which “systematically undermine” parents. This is done by having schools support student gender-change efforts without telling parents.

The next policy is policing of language. Anderson noted New York State fines people for purposely “misgendering” someone. And the final concern is the provision of medical sciences – such as bans on “conversion therapy.”

Anderson cited medical laws and regulations promoted by gender activists. One was conversion therapy bans, which make therapy to help someone respect their biological sex illegal. Anderson noted counseling which “gender-affirm[s]” is left legal. He also pointed to an Obama administration effort which required doctors who do double-mastectomies for breast cancer to do them for gender-confused women. That measure was knocked down by a judge in 2016. It has not been repealed by the Trump administration.

Yet “claims made by activists contradict each other,” said Anderson. One is an effort to “double down on rigid gender stereotypes.” For example, a young girl playing with trucks must be “male,” yet activists claim that gender is a social construct. These activists also say there are no differences between the sexes.

And the “radical individual[ism]” embraced by activists contradicts “ruthless paternalism” where “anyone who dissents” will be “silenced, mocked, and de-platformed,” said Anderson.

Anderson posed a number of questions to the audience, such as: First, how can we know what it means to be “feeling like a woman” when each woman (and man) is different? Second, how come feelings determine realities for sex, but not for height, weight, and skin color?

Pastoral and Theological Approaches

Father DeAngelo said the pastoral approach to helping a gender-confused person is a careful one. “Many Catholics who are struggling with these issues in their life want one of two things,” he said. People “want me to tell them they are going to Hell if they have this operation or if they have these therapies done, or they want me to say, ‘You can go right ahead because it’s what you believe.’”

“I can’t do either of those,” said DeAngelo. “I can’t give permission for how people choose to act in their life. …” According to the priest, “nor can I say to them, ‘You’re going to Hell.’”

What he can do is “help the person in front of him” reminding the person “that I stand by them as a” fellow Christian, “even though I may not be able to say, ‘I think this is the best thing for you.’ I wouldn’t, and they know that.”

“I think a lot of people come in with this idea that … they want a restoration of hope, that God understands who they are,” continued DeAngelo. “They want to know that no matter what choice they make in this realm, that they are still loved by God. They want to know and they hope that they can still find some place in the Catholic community.”

“I can’t fight today’s culture,” stated the priest. “[T]he greatest gift” he can give to another person is talking to them without rejecting them.

Grabowski said he wanted to show how “Scripture and Catholic Tradition see the sexually differentiated body as an integral part of who we are as persons.” Men and women are equal but different. Their bodies are important. Male and female bodies “represent two ways of existing” as a human. As Scripture says, “Male and female he created them.”

He reminded the 200 attendees, “the body expresses the person” in an “eternal Communion of love.” Grabowski noted that “bodily self-gift” brings another “gift”— a new person in the form of a child.

During the panel, Richards asked DeAngelo whether student challenges had changed in his 20 years at CUA. DeAngelo said that many questions are now discussed “in the pastoral realm” instead of in the confessional. “I’m not surprised it’s changed over the years. Now, anything goes.”

Richards: Attendees Had ‘Class and Respect’ During Tough Topic

Richards praised the overflow room of roughly 200 attendees for showing “class and respect” during the two-hour event and its one-hour social hour. “In an era when decency and tolerance for different points of view are at risk on college campuses, critics in the audience were entirely respectful and genuinely interested in what was said by the panelists. Conversations I had before and after the event with attendees were full of academic rigor and a desire to find the best solution for Catholics and our wider society on these tough issues.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of the CUA community for upholding high standards of class and respect.”

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