The National Centre for Religious Studies has released a document that provides Catholic schools with guidance on how to navigate issues pertaining to gender diversity among young people today.
Gender Complexity in Schools, which is endorsed by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, acknowledged that “gender dysphoria is real”. (According to the American Psychiatric Association website, gender dysphoria “involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify”.)
A statement released by the NZCBC explained that the document provides a point of reference for schools in the support and accompaniment of children and young people “who may be experiencing gender dysphoria in our schools”.
National Centre for Religious Studies (NCRS) director Colin MacLeod said: “This document is intended to provide appropriate and practical guidance regarding this complex issue in our schools. It does not cover every aspect, but acknowledges the need to treat every person with love and respect and to support students in their growing self-identity in a kind and sensitive manner.”
It was stressed in the document that “no person’s identity can be reduced to their gender or sexuality”, nor should they be “labelled by any other single aspect of their personhood”, for example, their ethnicity.
“The truly holistic view of the human person is what the Church teaches: to be understood as authentically human is to be “whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will” (Gaudium et Spes, 3), noted the document.
“Recognising that we are all created in the image of God and are united in Christ,
we can then marvel at the diversity which marks the worldwide human family.”
As stated in the document, genuine questions may emerge for a small percentage
of young people in schools.
“Genuine questions when they arise should be responded to in a non-judgmental way showing care, compassion and a willingness to listen.”
The document contained a warning against interest groups pushing ideological
agendas such as gender theory “that distort rather than enhance who we are as human beings”.
“Great care should be taken that any individual student is not labelled by others in a way that diminishes the fullness of who they are.
“Any such tendency would be an objectification of the student,” stated the document.
It also warned against bullying, ostracising or personal teasing, which is “always abhorrent and wrong”.
Gender Complexity in Schools placed particular emphasis on the role of the child’s family/whanau in assisting and supporting the child.
As for the Catholic school community, it is responsible for ensuring that young people “are safe from all bullying behaviour and words, know that they are loved, respected and accepted in their personhood, have changing, toilet and showering areas which are adequately private, and are supported in their growing self-identity in a kind and sensitive
manner, which is nurtured by faith, spirituality and the sacraments”.
The document also stated, under the heading “Particular points to consider”, that “Consideration of gender identity in the school setting should be focused on developing positive self-esteem and truly authentic friendship with others”.
The NCRS also offered practical “suggestions for kindness and support in practice”.
In addition to suggesting that unisex or single toilets and changing rooms should be “designated on school sites”, the document advised that schools should undertake “careful discernment” concerning sleeping arrangements on school retreats or camps for a gender
dysphoric student or a transgender student.
The final decision needs to be agreed to by “the individual in question, other students and all parents”.
“Being made to sleep alone or in the same room as teachers is not appropriate.”
Schools should also consider seeking expert advice or professional development for staff from “expert groups or individuals” who understand and support the school’s Catholic context.