School Choice & Charters

Catholic School Allows Transgender Teacher to Keep His Job

By Madeline Will — May 13, 2016 2 min read
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An English teacher at a Catholic high school in San Francisco will be allowed to keep his job after coming out as a transgender man.

Gabriel Stein-Bodenheimer recently came out to the nuns who run Mercy High School, a college preparatory school for girls. Stein-Bodenheimer, who was born female, has been at the school since 2012, and serves as the English department chair.

In a press release obtained by the National Catholic Reporter, Stein-Bodenheimer said he loves teaching at Mercy High School, but needed to be true to himself.

“For my own sense of authenticity in the classroom, it was important to name myself, to identify myself, to bring the whole self into the aspect of my teaching,” he said. “It is important to speak to this issue, not to be silent.”

In a letter to parents on Wednesday, Sister Laura Reicks, president of the 16-state region of the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community, wrote that administrators “studied how to respond in a manner consistent with Mercy and Gospel values and your School’s Catholic Identity.”

“We prayed for guidance,” Reicks wrote. “We also consulted trusted advisors as we applied these principles to this circumstance. .... We strive to witness to mercy when we honor the dignity of each person in a welcoming culture that pursues integrity of word and deed.”

The school’s values include supporting every person, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identification, the letter said.

The school will offer counselors for parents, students, faculty, and staff to process their views on the issue. According to the Associated Press, there have been no complaints from the school community so far.

In a statement, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said the Sisters of Mercy had affirmed their Catholic beliefs and values while not advocating “for policies or causes that contradict these values and beliefs.”

“Often in such situations a balance must be struck in a way that distinct values are upheld, such as mercy and truth, or institutional integrity and respect for personal decisions affecting one’s life,” he said. “In this particular personnel matter I am thankful to the sisters for seeking a response consistent with mercy and Gospel values and the corporate identity of the school as a Catholic institution of secondary education.”

There is no official Catholic policy regarding transgender people, but some church leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI, have said that God created males and females and that anatomy defines identity.

The sisters’ response comes at a time when transgender rights in education have been the subject of a national debate. Today, the Obama administration announced that public schools must allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

Source: Image by Flickr user BookMama, licensed under Creative Commons

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.