WASHINGTON, D.C. — The chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees Feb. 24 praised President Donald Trump’s repeal of the Obama administration’s directive on transgender access to bathrooms.
The guidance, issued last May by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, “indicated that public pre-K through 12 schools, as well as all colleges and universities, should treat ‘a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex,’” said the bishops’ joint statement.
The document “sought to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with sensitive issues involving individual students,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education.
“Such issues are best handled with care and compassion at the local level, respecting the privacy and safety concerns of all students,” they said.
In rescinding the directive, the Trump administration said that addressing of transgender access to bathrooms is best left to the states and local school districts, not the federal government.
The Obama administration said it applied to all public schools as well as colleges and universities that received federal funding. The directive “summarizes a school’s Title IX obligations regarding transgender students,” administration officials said, and that it also explained how the Education and Justice departments will “evaluate a school’s compliance with these obligations.”
The federal Title IX statute prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities, like sports. Some months before issuing the directive, the Obama administration had warned schools that denying transgender students access to the facilities and activities of their choice was illegal under its interpretation of federal sex discrimination laws.
Officials at the Justice and Education departments in the Trump administration rejected the previous administration’s position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.
That directive, they said, was arbitrary and devised “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”
“Pope Francis has taught that ‘biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated,” said Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Murry, quoting from Amoris Laetitia, the papal document on marriage and family.
“The Catholic Church consistently affirms the inherent dignity of each and every human person and advocates for the well-being of all people, particularly the most vulnerable,” the two prelates said. “Children, youth and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion sensitivity, and respect. All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of all young students and parents.”
Beyond the USCCB, other religious leaders have reacted to Trump’s repeal of the Obama administration’s directive on transgender access to bathrooms. Some, but not all of them agreed with the Catholic bishops.
For instance, Russell Moore, an Evangelical theologian and preacher president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said the move is good for parents and good for families.
“Children are not pawns of the state to be used to advance the latest fashionable ‘right side of history’ cause,” he said. “Christians must continue to insist that the worldview of the sexual revolution harms men and women and advocate for the inherent dignity of all.”
Instead, Nancy K. Kaufman, CEO of National Council of Jewish Women, considered it a betrayal: “The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is disgusted by this betrayal, which puts transgender students at risk for bullying, harassment, and violence.”
Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, called it an “assault on freedom and human dignity,” and said Trump has added transgender youth, “along with immigrants, Muslims, women and people of color” as targets of his “hateful and dangerous agenda.
“Transgender students are some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society, often facing violence and painful social stigma both in and out of school,” Cotler said. “We should protect and embrace these children, not tell them that they are unworthy of equal rights and protection under the law.”
Material from RNS was used in this report.