Omaha, Neb. — Nebraska's three Catholic bishops Jan. 14 asked school officials and parents to "make every effort" to reverse action by the Nebraska School Activities Association's board on transgender participation in high school sports and other activities.
The board had voted 6-2 just hours earlier to create a pathway for male students who identify as females to compete on girls' teams -- and females who identify as males to compete on boys' teams.
But the association's districts could overrule the board's decision -- which took effect immediately -- by voting for a bylaw change at a statewide representative assembly in April.
The board acted after four out of six of the school association's districts voted Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 for the bylaw change backed by Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha and Bishops James D. Conley of Lincoln and Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island, which would formalize the long-standing practice of basing high school sports participation on students' sex at birth.
The bishops issued their statement through the Nebraska Catholic Conference, which represents their public policy interests and lobbied against the association's board policy.
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"The Catholic member-schools of the Nebraska School Activities Association are dismayed by the arbitrary, noncollaborative decision made by the NSAA board to implement a transgender participation policy," the bishops said. "The board's decision circumvents the will of the voting members expressed in the democratic process that was recently completed."
"Student-athletes, parents, and member-schools are discouraged to learn that the NSAA ignored their concerns about the welfare of Nebraska's children that was shared during the district voting process," the bishops said. "Member-schools and parents must make every effort to reverse an NSAA board action that compromises fairness, equality, privacy, safety, and respect for Nebraska's high school students."
Members of the Nebraska School Activities Association's will consider the "sex at birth" bylaw proposal at the association's 51-member representative assembly April 8. That vote is necessary because at least three of the association's districts voted for the "sex at birth" proposal.
The assembly must approve the bylaw proposal by a three-fifths vote, and that would overrule any board action.
If the bylaw proposal is adopted, it would go into effect Aug. 1 at the earliest.
The state Catholic conference said it would continue to post information on its website, http://necatholic.org, about the representative assembly and ways people can advocate for final adoption of the "sex at birth" proposal.
In a statement Jan. 4, before the districts voted on the bylaw proposal, Archbishop Lucas and Bishops Conley and Hanefeldt said all people are entitled to respect, dignity and the support needed for personal development and well-being.
"Such support, however, must be provided with due consideration to fairness and the safety, privacy and rights of all students," the bishops said.
"It would be unjust to allow a harmful and deceptive gender ideology to shape either what is taught or how activities are conducted in our schools," the bishops said. "This would certainly have a negative impact on students' and society's attitudes toward the fundamental nature of the human person and family."
The Nebraska School Activities Association's board action allows a transgender student or that student's parent to notify the school in writing that the student has a "consistent gender identity different than the sex on the student's birth certificate."
Schools then decide whether the student meets the overall participation standards of the association and the requirements of transgender student participation established by the school.
The policy also establishes an association "gender eligibility committee" to further determine the student's eligibility. In male-to-female cases, this would include the student in question having had hormone treatment for at least a year or a gender reassignment procedure, with testing to show the student does not have physical or physiological advantages over females of the same group.
It also accounts for restroom and locker room use by having transgender students who have not undergone sex reassignment surgery use facilities associated with their birth sex, or be assigned private facilities.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference, however, said this and other provisions are complicated and raise serious concerns, and urged people to read information the conference has provided on its website.