Nebraska bishops urge support for ‘at-birth’ gender identity

OMAHA, Neb. — The Nebraska Catholic Conference has urged people to support a proposal being considered by the Nebraska School Activities Association that would formalize the current practice of basing high school sports participation on students’ sex at birth.

Time is critical, because representatives in one of NSAA’s six districts were to vote Jan. 6 on the “at-birth” proposal as well as another bylaw proposal that is similar but raises serious concerns because it would allow some exceptions, said Sheri Rickert, policy director and general counsel for the conference.

Representatives of the other five districts were to vote Jan. 13.

Approval of the at-birth proposal at the January meetings is necessary to prevent adoption of a policy by the NSAA board Jan. 14 that would allow participation based on subjective gender identity, Rickert said.

The conference urged parents — particularly of students in public schools — to contact school superintendents and school board members to express their concern and call on officials to vote for the bylaw proposal that would continue the practice of basing sports participation on a student’s sex as stated on their birth certificate, Rickert said.

Archbishop George J. Lucas and Bishops James D. Conley of Lincoln and Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island issued a statement on the issue in late December, urging all NSAA member schools to vote in favor of the at-birth proposal.

The bishops said all people are entitled to respect, dignity and the support needed for personal development and well-being.

“Such support, however, must be provided with due consideration to fairness and the safety, privacy and rights of all students,” the bishops said.

“Parents have always appreciated school activities as playing a vital role in the major development of school age children,” the statement said. “It would be unjust to allow a harmful and deceptive gender ideology to shape either what is taught or how activities are conducted in our schools. This would certainly have a negative impact on students’ and society’s attitudes toward the fundamental nature of the human person and family.”

At least three districts must pass the at-birth bylaw proposal, or the alternative, for them to be voted on April 8 by the entire NSAA representative assembly and override any actions taken by the NSAA board, Rickert said.

But if neither bylaw proposal is approved, there would be no vote in April, leaving the NSAA board to finalize the policy proposal that it first heard in December.

That proposal would allow males identifying as females to compete on girls’ teams and females identifying as males to compete on boys’ teams in NSAA sports and other activities, Rickert said.

While the proposed board policy would give schools a great deal of discretion, it could present difficulties for all schools — including those that do not allow transgender participation — such as an increased risk of lawsuits and competition decisions among schools, Rickert said.

While NSAA board members have expressed a need to take action on transgender issues to avoid lawsuits, it is difficult to imagine any transgender participation policy that would not be disputed in some fashion and invite litigation, Rickert said.

“The draft board policy would raise more legal issues than it would resolve,” she said.

Acting on behalf of the bishops, Rickert has expressed other concerns to the board about its transgender policy proposal, arguing in part that as many as 80 percent of children who have transgender feelings lose them after puberty.

“A sports participation policy should not discourage or interfere with this natural process for most of these students,” Rickert told the board Oct. 8.

She said people who feel an emotional and psychological identity opposite from their biological sex can be described as having “gender dysphoria,” a condition of unknown origins that often is transitory. Absent a better understanding of the condition, no policy should be adopted that would encourage or support a student in actions — such as sex reassignment surgery — that could have long-term, negative ramifications, she said.

And difficulty with gender identity is not simply a condition experienced by some people, Rickert said. It has become an ideology, with some believing masculinity and femininity are social constructs that do not reflect an objective reality, she said.

Such a view is directly opposed to church teaching, which stresses that God created men and women, with differences that matter, Rickert said.

“The gender ideology,” she explained, “is really a rejection of God, and God as our creator.”

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Editor’s Note: The full Nebraska Catholic Conference statement is online at

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Ruff is news editor at the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Omaha Archdiocese.