CLEVELAND — The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has laid out what it calls a formal policy on issues of sexuality and gender identity for schools and parishes.
The new policy, which took effect Sept. 1, bars students from dressing or identifying with a gender inconsistent with their “God-given” sex.
The policy goes on to say that gender-affirming healthcare is banned, students must dress, act and be a part of sports teams and clubs consistent with their assigned sex and use only those bathrooms.
Students may only attend dances with a date of the opposite sex, and if teachers suspect a student is queer, they’re now required to report it to the student’s parents.
Members of Dignity, a community of LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies, are disappointed in these rules, which Ellen Euclide said can be dangerous.
“I can stay Catholic because I'm queer,” Euclide said. “I can be queer because I'm Catholic.”
In a statement, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland said, in part, “Each and every person is welcome and invited to be a part of the Church. Each one of us brings our own struggles and questions, and the Church, like Christ, meets each one of us where we are. It is our hope that this policy, in tandem with the pastoral and theological resources found on the diocese’s website, helps each person to live more fully in the truth of their identity as a son or daughter of God who is made, body and soul, in His image.”
A proud Catholic school alum, Euclide said while her school didn’t celebrate the LGBTQ+ community, they weren’t as overtly against it either.
“I feel like this is so dangerous because where I went to school, they weren't necessarily gay affirming," she said. "It was just kind of not talked about. It was something other people did. It wasn't a possibility that I saw it as a reality for myself.”
Coming from a family of Polish Catholics, Euclide said the reasons she remains a part of the faith is because it’s been such a huge part of her culture and identity for her entire life.
She said her family supports her in her sexuality, as do many members of the Catholic church.
But, she said, if it weren’t for the community support she gets from Dignity, she wouldn’t want to stay.
“My whole history, my family, my faith, my things that are really important to me, is disagreeing with this other part of my identity,” she said.
According to the Trevor Project’s 2023 survey of queer youth in the U.S., more than 40% of LGBTQ young people seriously considered suicide in the past year.
And nearly two in three said hearing about potential state or local laws banning people from discussing LGBTQ+ people at school made their mental health a lot worse.
Superintendent of Albert Einstein Academy, Kristen Thomas, is a former a school counselor who often hears the struggles LGBTQ+ students face and said they deliberately opened their Lakewood campus in 2018 with the intention of creating a gender-affirming space for queer youth.
“That goes with using the pronouns that they ask us to, calling them by the name that they choose and affirming the gender in which they identify,” Thomas said.
Junior Camila Figueroa, who uses she/they pronouns, said learning in a safe and inclusive environment has helped their mental health, ability to learn and confidence in self-expression.
“I know that every day when I walk into this school building and I see other people, nobody's gonna care of how I present myself or what I'm wearing,” Figueroa said. “They're not going to judge me because I'm wearing a skirt this day and then I'm wearing like, sweat pants and a baggy hoodie the next day, you know?”
Euclide has a message for queer students who may be living in Catholic spaces.
“These few people in power are not not the majority of people who are following the faith,” she said. “And, we can we can advocate within our own schools, talk to the principal, write letters, ask your mom to write a letter. But you are wanted, and you're important to that school community and the larger Catholic community.”