Making gender equality a lived experience.
‘Love has no gender – compassion has no religion – character has no race’ (Abhijit Naskar, Either Civilized or Phobic: A Treatise on Homosexuality).
In response to growing community comments on gender identity and same-sex attractedness in recent years, Catholic Education Melbourne convened a special working committee to develop key resources that would provide all Catholic schools with clarification and guidance across the areas of human sexuality, identity and relationships.
From the extended journey of this committee over more than two years came the launch, in May 2018, of the Identity and Growth: A Perspective for Catholic Schools policy and resource package.
Among those called on to contribute to the work of the committee were principals, parent council representatives, theology and health experts, and a nominee of the Archbishop.
The package’s title encompasses three issues we sought to reconcile within the context of pastoral care and sexual orientation:
- the Catholic Church’s view
- Catholic Church policy
- Catholic curriculum for schools.
What evolved from the work of the committee was a comprehensive package with five key moving parts.
The first moving part, Catholic Foundation Statement, is a broad foundation statement from the Church’s teachings, including the Catechism, giving perspective for Catholic schools on our understanding of the human person, adolescent growth towards maturity and developing to the fullness of life.
The second moving part, Upholding the Law, is a clear statement on what the law expects, with specific reference to sexual orientation, gender identity and discrimination.
The third and fourth moving parts expand on Upholding the Law through Policy 2.30 Sexual Orientation and Policy 2.31 Pastoral care for students experiencing gender dysphoria. These are based on the latest expert social and medical advice, and articulate definitions, principles of decision-making, and procedural considerations around sexual orientation and gender dysphoria. The two policies also draw from the work of Rev Dr Joseph Parkinson STL, a bioethicist and moral theologian who has extensively explored both Catholic theology and research on sexuality and gender. Rev Parkinson speaks about our individual and collective school roles, and resisting the rush to ‘put labels on people’ from an early age.
The fifth moving part is a curriculum resource – Education in Human Sexuality: A guide & audit resource for Catholic schools. This functions as an audit tool with nine filters through which schools may assess any individual education program offering:
- Definition: Is the approach based on a contemporary definition of the core concepts?
- Suitability: Does the approach address the target students and needs that the school has identified?
- Sustainability: Can the school implement and sustain the approach as required for it to be effective?
- Real results: Does the approach indicate how outcomes will be measured and timeframes within which to expect to see results?
- Feasibility: Is the approach feasible and practical in the school context?
- Perspective: Is the philosophical perspective underpinning the approach compatible with the school’s approach to behaviour, learning and student wellbeing?
- Theory: Is the approach based on a sound theory that draws on the existing knowledge from previous research in the field?
- Evidence: Does the approach have evidence from well-designed research which shows measurable change in behaviour?
- Practice: Have other schools used this approach and achieved positive outcomes?
Although evaluation data are not yet available on the success of the Identity and Growth package, we can already say it has been well-received by all schools.
Identity and Growth asserts the culture of our Catholic schools as a community where all children and young people – no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity or dysphoria – are wholly welcomed, respected and valued as perfect images of God.
It emphasises the dignity of every person, and guides our schools in responding to the pastoral and educational needs of non-binary gender students, their family and school community.
It provides both broad and practical directions to help schools navigate the identity and growth journey each child and young person is on.