Aquinas staff undergoes “Anti-LGBTQ+” education through diocese | Local News

Aquinas High School teachers and staff were scheduled to receive what was cited as “Anti-LGBTQ+” education on Friday, with attendance of the program from the Diocese of La Crosse considered mandatory.

In a letter obtained and sent by Wisconsin Watch and other sources to local media outlets including the Tribune, the Diocese of La Crosse stated the virtual “Anti-LGBTQ+ Education” training session would “highlight outdated and inappropriate use of biological, medical and cultural terminology for gender and sexuality, as well as rejecting the importance of sex-positive, gender-inclusive teachings and education within the school system.”

The Tribune reached out to the Diocese of La Crosse and Aquinas High School by phone and email Friday for comment. Responses were not received as of press time Saturday afternoon.

Gender identity has been a hot-button issue in recent years, with the divisive political climate in play. Schools have debated transgender students’ use of locker rooms and bathrooms and participation in sports in accordance with their gender identity. Causing waves recently was the Florida Senate’s passage of what some refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. Opponents believe the bill may endanger LGBTQIA youth.

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Progressive policies have also drawn scrutiny — in Wisconsin, two sets of parents filed a lawsuit last year against a school district in Waukesha, which they said allowed their children to use different names and pronouns without parental consent. In 2021, the Madison Metropolitan School District voted to allow transgender students to play with the athletic teams that correspond with their gender identity, which caused some outcry.

Some schools have made a point to increase LGBTQ education and resources, with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction stating lack of school or parental support for LGBTQ youth can lead to adverse outcomes. DPI encourages having clubs at school which promote acceptance, such as a Gay-Straight Alliance, and instructing teachers on intervening when harassment and bullying occurs.

Per the National Center for Transgender Equality, students have the right to be referred to with the pronouns matching their gender identity, to use bathrooms which match their identity and to dress according to their identity within the guidelines of the school dress code, if one is in place.

Aquinas Catholic Schools are not part of the public school system, but rather operate under the diocese and receive some financial support from parishes.

According to the diocese’ agenda for the Aquinas training, Cheryl Kaufer was to present “A Patient and Loving Response to the Transgender Question,” with sources stating staff received associated handouts and a link to a YouTube video. The video, “Schools & Children: Caught in the Transgender Industry’s Web,” produced by Advocates Protecting Children, covered “how the transgender industry has captured our schools and children via money, activism, propaganda and marketing.”

Literature included “Male and Female: He Created Them,” which states schools are “facing an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality,” with curriculum that is opposed to faith and right to reason.

“The disorientation regarding anthropology which is a widespread feature of our cultural landscape has undoubtedly helped to destabilize the family as an institution, bringing with it a tendency to cancel out the differences between men and women, presenting them instead as merely the product of historical and cultural conditioning,” the text says, later noting, “Children enjoy the right” of “continuing to grow up and mature in a correct relationship represented by the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother and thus preparing for affective maturity.”

The text argues “a democratic state cannot reduce the range of education on offer to a single school of thought, all the more so in relation to this extremely delicate subject, which is concerned on the one hand with the fundamentals of human nature, and on the other with natural rights of parents to freely choose any educational model that accords with the dignity of the human person.” Parental rights should be respected, and students treated with respect, it says.

Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, and the diocese in its memo about the program states that violations of civil rights affect the well-being of students and staff, and goes against Aquinas’ anti-bullying and Christian conduct guidelines.

Additional literature shared with teachers for the training, “A Catechesis on the Human Person and Gender Ideology,” claims “increased acceptance of transgender ideology” has led to “rapid rise in the number of persons claiming an identity contrary to their biological sex.” It continues, “Attempts to accommodate such claims already have resulted in tremendous upheavals in our social, legal, and medical systems.”

Gender dysphoria, it says, should be addressed with “compassion rooted in truth,” and a person’s sex is an “immutable biological reality.” It later states “no amount of ‘masculinizing’ or ‘feminizing’ hormones or surgery can make a man into a woman, or a woman into a man.”

dr Johanna Olson-Kennedy of California, who specializes in working with transgender youth, in a 2015 interview with the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles said there are many factors in what causes a person to be transgender. She said, “The information that is being discovered now is indicating that the neural wiring in a transgender person’s brain looks more similar to their gender of identity rather than their gender of assignment at birth. What this means is that gender identity is most likely developing in the womb.”

dr Ananya Mandal, in a 2019 article for News Medical Life Sciences, said there is evidence that gender dysphoria may have biological causes associated with the development of gender identity before birth, and other experts have identified genetics, hormonal influences during prenatal development, and environmental factors as possible factors.

In terms of using one’s preferred pronouns, the catechesis says, “The faithful should avoid using ‘gender-affirming’ terms or pronouns that convey approval of or reinforce the person’s rejection of the truth.” Mayo Clinic, however, states parents should not “assume your child’s gender expression is a form of rebellion or defiance” or prevent them from expressing their gender identity in public.

The catechesis further claims no one is actually transgender — rather, they may be experiencing troubling feelings, confusion or a mistaken belief that he or she “is or can ‘become’ someone different.” Parents, it says, should be mindful of what their children view on social media, which could “quickly (undo)” their “good work” in protecting them from “dangerous influence” regarding acceptance of gender identity.

The last handout, “Competing Views of the Human Person,” compares the dominant secular view and the Catholic view, with the former cited as believing “receiving my identity from another threatens my autonomy,” and the latter proclaiming, “My primary identity is that of a son or daughter of God. That’s who I am.”

Alesha Schandelmeier, executive director of The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection, in a statement to the Tribune expressed alarm at the training.

“As community leaders, educators, parents and adults, it is our responsibility to support all young people and to find ways to ensure each of them has the chance to succeed,” Schandelmeier said. “At a time when our LGBTQ+ youth, specifically transgender youth, are being targeted across the country, I am deeply troubled that Aquinas Catholic Schools is requiring their teachers and staff to participate in mandatory training that includes harmfully inaccurate materials related to the LGBTQ+ community. This includes prohibiting important, factual gender-inclusive education.

Continued Schandelmeier, “I strongly believe that education is key and restricting access to information is harmful to everyone. At The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection we dedicate ourselves to providing support, accurate and up-to-date information and to offer training for those in need.”

Statistics show transgender individuals are at greater risk for mental health issues, and family rejection, bullying, violence, discrimination and feeling unsafe or unaccepted can contribute to suicidal thoughts. A 2021 survey from the Trevor Project found 42% of LGBTQ kids and teens seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

A 2018 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found female to male transgender adolescents reported the highest rate of attempted suicide at nearly 51%, compared to cisgender (meaning their gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth) female adolescents at 17.6% and cisgender male adolescents at 9.8%.

Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

“At a time when our LGBTQ+ youth, specifically transgender youth, are being targeted across the country, I am deeply troubled that Aquinas Catholic Schools is requiring their teachers and staff to participate in mandatory training that includes harmfully inaccurate materials related to the LGBTQ+ community. “

Alesha Schandelmeier, executive director of The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection

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