The College of the Holy Cross quietly opened up its student housing policy to accommodate transgender and genderqueer students earlier this year, the latest step toward inclusivity at a Jesuit school known for its welcoming and academically rigorous environment.
But notice of the change prompted outrage from some conservative Catholic institutions who blasted the change as heretical.
Adam Cassandra at the Cardinal Newman Society flagged the change in a post headlined “Catholic Colleges Embrace ‘Demonic’ Gender Ideology in Housing Policies.”
“The [Cardinal] Newman Society has called on all Catholic colleges to apply for the Title IX exemption to protect their Catholic identity,” Cassandra noted.
As The Daily Beast reported in December, nearly 60 religious colleges have applied for exemptions to a federal law barring sex discrimination during the Obama administration. Under the current administration, the law—which applies to schools that receive federal funding—has been interpreted to apply to gender identity and expression, as well.
But at some religious institutions, the transition isn’t as fraught as Cassandra appears to believe, even if it comes quietly. The change at Holy Cross was spearheaded by Keith Plummer, a junior at the school who identifies as genderqueer.
Plummer came out at the start of the school year in a letter to officials in charge of residential life, diversity, and student affairs, and asked to live with close friends who understand Plummer’s gender identity—and who happen to be female—the following year.
“As a Catholic institution, I think our president is very committed to diversity,” Plummer said. “Jesuit Catholicism is much more open to diverse perspectives and more so founded upon the innate human dignity of all persons, and that includes the LGBTQ community.”
“The chaplain’s office hosted a prayer service in solidarity with the trans community in conjunction with Pride last year,” Plummer added, referring to the student LGBTQ advocacy group.
By March, Plummer’s request had been approved, and the housing policy amended with a note explaining it would still be segregated by sex but that individual students could apply for exemptions.
“Our Catholic identity calls us to treat all persons—including all within the LGBTQ community—with dignity and respect,” university spokeswoman Ellen Ryder told The Daily Beast.
The school has no comment on the Cardinal Newman Society article, she added.
But while Holy Cross may be among the more progressive Catholic schools—its non-discrimination policy even includes gender identity, and an out transgender professor launched the Digital Transgender Archive—it is by no means alone.
The LGBTQ resource website for Georgetown University, another Jesuit institution, notes that the District of Columbia guarantees students the right to “equally access student housing corresponding to your gender identity or expression,” though it’s not clear whether the accommodation means letting students live according to their gender identity or providing them with a single room.
Georgetown did not respond to a Daily Beast request for comment.
And the University of San Francisco, another Catholic school blasted by the Newman Society, took its gender inclusivity a step further, urging students to acknowledge that “human beings are not necessarily ‘male’ or ‘female’ as ascribed by their assigned gender at birth.”
Not everyone at USF is required to participate in the gender-inclusive housing community, but those who are interested can fill out a form to enter a lottery.
“There are no dedicated ‘male’ or ‘female’ bathrooms on the Gender Inclusive floor,” the USF policy states. “The bathroom is a communal bathroom and shared by all members of the community (regardless of gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sex).”
The university did not respond to a request for comment.
These changes may be less and less startling for the next generation of Catholics, who generally supportive of LGBTQ rights. Plummer, who is Catholic, said students were “very supportive” of Holy Cross’s quiet shift and that several others have applied for accommodations.
Asked about the Cardinal Newman article, Plummer urged Catholics to look for a “theology of compassion” and to read some modern gender theory.
“In summary: get educated and ask yourself what Jesus would do.”