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Catholic Bishops spearhead letter encouraging parents to reject their transgender kids

Religious leaders dismiss the legitimacy of transgender identities as a "false idea."

Members of the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ride an escalator during a break in sessions at the USCCB's annual fall meeting. CREDIT: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Members of the the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ride an escalator during a break in sessions at the USCCB's annual fall meeting. CREDIT: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a new open letter, signed by many other religious leaders, rejecting the legitimacy of transgender identities. Titled “Created Male and Female,” the open letter asserts that gender and sex “cannot be separated,” calling it a “false idea” that “goes against reason” and “deeply troubling” notion “that a man can be or become a woman or vice versa.”

The letter attempts to simultaneously show compassion to transgender people while simultaneously condemning them. “A person’s discomfort with his or her sex, or the desire to be identified as the other sex, is a complicated reality that needs to be addressed with sensitivity and truth,” the letter states. Trans people deserve “to be heard and treated with respect,” and when they express “concerns” or discuss “wrestling with this challenge,” religious leaders should respond “with compassion, mercy, and honesty” — but not affirmation.

On section of the letter directly encourages parents to reject their transgender children, claiming that they are “harmed” when they are affirmed in their identities:

Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can “change” their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults. Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of “first, do no harm.” Gender ideology harms individuals and societies by sowing confusion and self-doubt. The state itself has a compelling interest, therefore, in maintaining policies that uphold the scientific fact of human biology and supporting the social institutions and norms that surround it.

Contrary to these claims, studies have found that how parents respond to their children’s gender identities can have drastic consequences for their mental health. When families reject their children for being transgender, it can significantly increase their depression and suicidal thinking. But when families affirm their kids in their gender identities, it’s one of the strongest buffers against those consequences, allowing them to be as happy and healthy as their peers who aren’t transgender. Trans kids are not full of “confusion and self-doubt,” and treating them like they are, as these religious leaders recommend, can be remarkably damaging.

In addition to several USCCB officials, the open letter was also signed by leaders from the Anglican Church in North America, the North American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and others. Among the signers was Andrew Walker of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Earlier this year, Walker published a book called God and the Transgender Debate, which essentially laid out a series of religious arguments for rejecting transgender people. In it, he claimed that trans people are responsible for their own suffering for rejecting God, which the USCCB letter also implies.

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According to the letter, it’s the people who condemn transgender identities who are the true victims. The “movement” to respect transgender people is “deeply troubling” and “compels people to either go against reason — that is, to agree with something that is not true — or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.” In all of the letter’s talk of compassion, it does not reference the discrimination transgender people experience in employment, housing, health care, education, the justice system, and public accommodations.

This latest rejection of transgender people is not inconsistent with prior Catholic teaching. Last year, Pope Francis called it “ideological colonization to teach that students can “choose their gender.”

Though the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention are the largest denominations in the U.S., there are many religious leaders who advocate on behalf of transgender people, including leaders from both of those denominations.