How Notre Dame should respond to “gender identity”

When students returned to campus last month, they received not just the friendly welcome of friends and faculty members, but also a University email presenting student perspectives on diversity and inclusion. One comment snuck in the middle of the three-minute glitz of video vignettes raises serious concerns about Notre Dame’s commitment to its Catholic identity, and more broadly, whether Our Lady’s university will abandon the fundamental Judeo-Christian understanding of Creation.  

“Students are asking how the university will support transgender peers,” the snippet said.  While the University provided no answer in the video, that one of the first formal emails students received from Notre Dame focused on supporting transgender peers suggests administrators viewed the messaging as important. And it is—but not in the way society and likely many in the Notre Dame family understand the meaning of “support.”  

In the last few years, transgender activists have insisted the only way to support individuals suffering from gender dysphoria is to affirm their “gender identity.” But no Catholic should affirm a false sex and no Catholic institution should suggest affirmation is an acceptable way to support individuals suffering from gender dysphoria.

At its root, affirmation requires a lie:  It mandates that we profess a falsehood—that a male is female, or a female is male. That human beings are “assigned sex” at birth.  That sex can be changed. That mind and body can be separated. In short, affirmation rejects the fundamental truth that “male and female, He created them.”  

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the “profound falsehood” of a gender theory that holds that “sex is no longer a given element of nature.” “It was not God who created them male and female—hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves,” our culture teaches. But, as Pope Benedict XVI exposed, “when the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being.”

Likewise, Pope Francis condemned attempts to separate biological sex and gender. “It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality.” While it may seem a small kindness to pretend a peer is a sex you know is false, it is not. It is never charitable to compromise the truth. And it is morally illicit and a rejection of our Catholic faith to affirm a false sex.  

So, yes, we must support individuals suffering from gender dysphoria, but in a counter-cultural way:  never affirming, but always with compassion, Christ’s love, and prayers for those carrying the great weight of the cross of gender dysphoria. Hopefully, that is the answer students will receive when they ask “how the university will support their transgender peers.”  

Margot Cleveland  is an Adjunct Teaching Professor in the Mendoza College of Business. She is one of the Rover’s faculty advisors, and can be reached at