Dr. Jerry Coyne recently highlighted the story of religious schools receiving Title IX exemptions allowing them to receive federal dollars while discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression. Seeing that one of the colleges and universities listed was St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Oklahoma–a university from which I received a BA in theology during a particularly weird time of my life–I wrote a message to Chancellor Lawrence Stasyszen asking the reason behind St. Gregory’s requesting a Title IX waiver. The response I received was pretty much what I expected, and so I will, on the morrow, be sending the following letter, along with my diploma, to the good chancellor:
Dear Chancellor Stasyszen,
I want to thank you for replying to my message of inquiry regarding the reason that St. Gregory’s University has sought Title IX waivers from the federal government. You clearly explained the views of your university regarding the expression of gender identity, and I do appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to respond to my e-mail.
As a rational human being, however, I cannot accept the validity of your arguments. To begin with, I wish to take issue with your following statement: “As a Catholic institution, St. Gregory’s is guided by the beliefs and teachings on the human person and sexuality which do not always agree with secular definitions. For example, we believe that the complex issue of gender identity cannot be separated from the physiological/corporeal characteristics with which a person is born.” You employ the term “secular,” but I believe you would be more accurate to substitute the term “scientific” there, for it is the scientific understanding of sex characteristics with which you are at odds. For example, there exists a group of conditions which fall under the general rubric of “intersex,” in which sex chromosomes may not correlate with the genitals present. There have been cases in which it has proven impossible even for trained doctors to tell whether a child was born male or female, and sometimes young children have been subjected to “corrective” surgery to make them fit into one category or another. While society at large has become increasingly comfortable with the reality that gender identity exists along a spectrum, we still tend to believe that human beings fall into a neat male/female dichotomy when, in fact, that is far from the case. One of the more common intersex conditions, Klinefelter syndrome, in which a person possesses XXY sex chromosomes, can affect as many as one out of every 1,000 people. Even outside the category of intersex conditions, there exists a body of scientific evidence demonstrating that gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria, has an underlying physiological cause. St. Gregory’s University and the Roman Catholic Church, therefore, are not at odds with some imagined opponent called “secular society”—they are at odds with reality.
Since graduating from your university, I have completed my Ph.D., writing my dissertation on the subject of racial cleansing in the state of Arkansas. This was later published, in a much modified form, as the monograph Racial Cleansing in Arkansas, 1883–1924: Politics, Land, Labor, and Criminality (Lexington Books, 2014). One thing I have discovered in my ongoing research into racial violence is that such atrocities as lynching and racial cleansing occur in what historian Aristotle Kallis would call an environment of license—that is to say, an environment in which the authorities of the day, both cultural and political, make such public statements, or perform such public actions, as to allow majoritarian populations feel that they have tacit permission to harass (or worse) certain minority groups. We can certainly witness today how, for example, anti-immigrant rhetoric, as practiced by politicians in both the United States and abroad, leads to a growing number of hate crimes. By so publicly separating your university from the circle of shared human concern, with regard to people whose gender expression does not necessarily correlate to their physical sex (or people whose physical sex is non-normative), you have granted an explicit license for those within your own realm of influence to disregard the humanity of others on the basis of gender identity, despite your protestations to the contrary. Such actions would certainly fall under the definition of evil as outlined by the philosopher Claudia Card, being reasonably foreseeable, intolerable harm made possible by inexcusable wrongdoing. I do not claim that this decision of yours will necessarily lead to explicit violence as perpetrated by anyone affiliated with your university, but it is “reasonably foreseeable” that some measure of intolerable harm will result from your policy. After all, LGBTQ communities even today suffer a higher per capita rate of suicide due, in part, to persistent practices of social exclusion, such as that which your university intends to perpetrate.
You will find enclosed the diploma presented to me by St. Gregory’s University in 2005 upon the completion of my Bachelor of Arts degree in theology. For the reasons outlined above, I can no longer display it in good conscience; in fact, it is an embarrassment to me that I ever attended your university.
P.S. Lest you worry that you have on your hands some sort of renegade Catholic who might cause disruption within the body of believers, I wish to reassure you that I ended my affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church not long after graduating from your university. My disagreement with your policies is not based upon theology.