As the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) weighs new protocol for transgender students’ participation in school activities, the Catholic bishops of Nebraska have urged respect for these persons while also upholding the safety and privacy of other students.

“Any person who experiences gender dysphoria is entitled to the respect and dignity that is the right of every human person, as well as genuine concern and the support needed for personal development and well-being,” Nebraska Bishops George Lucas of Omaha, James Conley of Lincoln, and Joseph Hanefeldt of Grand Island said in a joint statement Jan. 4.

However, they said, support for these individuals “must be provided with due consideration to the fairness and the safety, privacy, and rights of all students.”

On Jan. 6 and Jan. 13 high schools in Nebraska will be voting on whether or not to adopt formally the current NSAA practice of requiring students to participate in activities and sports according to their sex at birth.

The bishops noted that the Nebraska Catholic Conference supports the proposal and that all diocesan high schools that are NSAA will vote in favor of it.

If this proposal fails, the NSAA will consider a different option, which would allow students to participate in sports based on their gender identity rather than their biological sex. These students would have to undergo a review by the “Gender Identity Eligibility Committee” which would include evaluation by a physician, a mental health professional, an NSAA staff member, and an administrator from a non-appealing school.

The bishops stated, “Whichever alternative is chosen will also establish the legal basis for any litigation in Nebraska on important, related issues such as locker room and restroom use, religious liberty, and individual freedom of conscience.”

A shift from the NSAA’s current participation guidelines would not only impact high school activities, but it would also 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 towards the fundamental nature of the human person and the family,” the bishops wrote.

Quoting Pope Francis, who recently addressed the issue of gender ideology, the bishops said that in the name of a “more free and just society”, gender ideology is calling into question the complementarity between man and woman.

But these differences, Pope Francis said, “are not for opposition or subordination, but for communion and generation, always in the ‘image and likeness’ of God.”

The bishops also quoted Benedict XVI, who had said that “if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.”

The Nebraska bishops, along with the Nebraska Catholic Conference, urged all NSAA member schools to vote in favor of the “sex on the certificate at birth” bylaw amendment at their upcoming meetings.