What Do We Do?
Dignity Twin Cities is a small Christian community that provides a spiritual base for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics, their families and friends. We are also an activist organization that works to change the antiquated sexual theology of the Roman Catholic Church.
Why Do We Do This?
We work to create community and change within the Roman Catholic Church because we take our baptism seriously. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics have been, and are now part of the Church at all levels and in all places. We think God calls all Catholics to work to create a better Church and a better world that celebrates the diversity of creation, including the wondrous, and glorious creation of lesbian women, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender and gender diverse persons.
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Dignity Twin Cities is aware of a current lawsuit alleging harm to students in a local, Catholic, Twin Cities high school when students were subject to gay-themed hazing.
Dignity Twin Cities emphasizes Church teaching that all people, especially students in a Catholic school, must be treated with respect and courtesy. We will do whatever we can to support LGBTQIA+ high school students.
Minutes from Dignity Twin Cities meeting, August 17, 2020, with Archbishop Hebda
“In the final end we won the war after losing every battle."
Idiot Wind, -Bob Dylan
On Monday afternoon, August 17, a team of six from Dignity Twin Cities sat down with Archbishop Hebda in the Cathedral Room at the Chancery offices on the East Side of St. Paul. Although scheduled for an hour, the meeting ran for two as we discussed the “Guiding Principles for Catholic Schools and Religious Education Concerning Human Sexuality and Sexual Identity,” or more simply, the “Guiding Principles,” issued by the Minnesota Conference of Catholic Bishops, including the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis last winter.
Dignity Twin Cities requested this meeting because the effect of the Guiding Principles is to prohibit children in Catholic elementary and high schools from transitioning to anything other than “a person’s biological identification as male or female based upon physical characteristics present at birth.” In other words, prohibiting a transgender child or teen in a Catholic school from transitioning to another gender or sexual identity because it may “cause disruption or confusion regarding the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.”
The Archbishop requested that we not record the meeting, so this is a brief summary attempting to highlight the main points of the discussion.
The Guiding Principles refer to a source document issued by the Vatican in February, 2019, “Male and Female He Created Them.” This document repeatedly references the need for all sides of the issue to listen to and dialogue with the other side. At the beginning of our discussion with Archbishop Hebda, this writer stated that there is no evidence that in creating its document the Vatican consulted any LGBTQ Catholics, and the same is true of the Minnesota Catholic Conference when it issued the Guiding Principles. Also, the Vatican document repeatedly excoriates “gender theory,” and “the ideology of gender,” without citing any authors or works as the basis of its condemnations.
Alex Iantaffi, Ph.D., LMFT, and the Archbishop began their conversation with a friendly exchange in Italian and, in English, Alex identified himself as transgender. Dr. Iantaffi participated via speaker phone due to COVID 19 concerns. The Archbishop argued his case for not allowing gender transitioning in Catholic schools based on scientific research that shows most children who experience gender dysphoria outgrown it in puberty. Dr. Iantaffi, courteously referring to the Archbishop as “excellency,” explained that the studies the Archbishop is using suffer from poor methodology due to poor assessment of the children studied, and pointed out that larger, more recent studies show that when children are properly assessed with gender dysphoria a larger number persist with the dysphoria past puberty. Dr. Iantaffi noted that it is very harmful to a child to try to change gender identity, and that the Church’s position continues in the ethically perilous realm of biological determinism. The Archbishop was not persuaded.
Susan Kimberly, former St. Paul City Councilperson, spoke of her years as the editor, in the 1960’s, ofThe Catholic Bulletin. She movingly described her experience of knowing that she was transgender when she was three years old. She said that she has known hundreds of transgender people, and of those hundreds only two regretted transitioning. She is Episcopalian now, but says that when she reads Roman Catholic Church documents, “I’m not in them.”
Jeanne Cornish, a long time veteran of Dignity Twin Cities, gave her first few minutes to thanking the Archbishop for his recent support of an imam who was attacked while walking to his mosque in Bloomington, MN. She said that as the grandmother of a gender non-conforming child she finds the Guiding Principles out of date, harmful, and non-scientific. She noted that we do not look at Genesis as a literal description of the creation of the universe and, therefore, should not similarly be bound to its literal, and limited description of human sexuality, i.e., “male and female he created them.”
Sara Fleetham, who works in religious education at Guardian Angels, Oakdale, reported that the Guiding Principles make her job harder, noting that they conflate gender and sexuality. She described her work with three transgender youths, one of whom who, for safety reasons, could not complete his school year at a Catholic grade school due to interventions and complaints from other adults involved with the school. She told the Archbishop that all three children, and their families, have left the Catholic Church.
Finally, Terry Friedrichs, a long time member of Dignity Twin Cities, a teacher, Ph.D., author, and learning specialist, described how he is personally and professionally focused on studying the strengths of LGBTQ students. He noted that in some studies 60 percent of transgender students in all US schools report being physically intimidated. In addition, they have much higher rates of suicide attempts, and miss more school than cisgender students. He reported being traumatized for years in a Twin Cities Catholic high school, for not conforming as a gay man to straight gender norms.
Archbishop Hebda then explained that the Guiding Principles were inspired by requests for assistance from elementary school teachers who asked for guidance on how to respond to students who changed their pronouns and began to socially transition. He said that the Church did not want to allow students to box themselves into a gender identity different from what they were assigned at birth before they go through puberty. He is worried about blocking natural development. He said that he has worked with families who complain that at the Center for Sexual Health at the University of Minnesota the staff prescribe puberty blockers after one visit. Dr. Iantaffi, who worked at that clinic in the past, responded that would not happen if a child is being assessed properly. When pressed if he would allow students with intense gender dysphoria, that is, those most likely to persist past puberty, to socially transition in a Catholic school setting he said no, “because they are children.”
Upon leaving, this writer gave Archbishop Hebda a copy of a letter from Dignity USA to the papal nuncio in Washington, requesting that policies like the Guiding Principles be rescinded. The letter reads in part: Research has repeatedly shown that transgender, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming youth whose gender identity is suppressed are eight (8) times more likely to have attempted suicide and six (6) times more likely to report high levels of depression than those whose parents and caregivers offer affirmation and support.* We believe it is imperative that our church leaders do all in their power to help end this mental health crisis among our children. This policy does just the opposite.
Brian McNeill, President, Dignity Twin Cities, 8/18/20