By Jim FitzGerald
Mark Kroilkowski wore his hair at shoulder length, his nails long and well manicured, and his ears pierced. His appearance, which evolved over the 32 years he'd spent teaching at St. Francis Prepatory School in Queens, had always been considered a bit unconventional for a Catholic school teacher, but it had caused no poblems until October 2011 when the parent of a freshman student complained, setting in motion a series of events that culminated in Kroilikowski's dismissal.
The former teacher says he was laid off because he informed school officials that he was transgender. He has filed suit. The school’s attorney says Krolikowski was fired for “nondiscriminatory reasons.”
Discrimination against transgender people is pervasive. Like Mark, 47 percent of those who responded to the survey said that they had suffered employment discrimination. Nineteen percent had suffered housing discrimination and a similar number had been denied health care due to their gender identity.
As Catholics, we regret that the leaders of our church and other conservative Christian organizations are leading the fight to deny transgender people their full human dignity and equal treatment under the law. In a recent address, Pope Benedict XVI argued against the very concept of gender, saying that one’s sexual identity is determined entirely by one’s biology.
Whatever their beliefs about human sexuality, members of the pope’s own church in this country reject discrimination against transgender people. A 2011 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 93 percent of U. S. Catholics believed that transgender people deserve the same legal rights and protections as other citizens. The survey also found that approximately three-quarters of Americans-from across the political and religious spectrum-believe that Congress should pass employment nondiscrimination laws to protect transgender people. A similar majority favor Congress’s recent expansion of hate crimes legislation to protect transgender people.
Mark’s case is one of many in which the church’s teaching on the inherent worth and dignity of every individual runs into the stone wall of its pre-modern teachings on human sexuality.
But ordinary Catholics, like Mark’s current and former students, see beyond the bishops’ limited view. They have begun a petition drive on his behalf, and praised him effusively in media interviews. They understand our long tradition of Catholic social justice teaching in a way that the school’s leaders and church leaders do not. We are called to create a church that is a haven and advocate for persecuted sexual minorities, and not a menace to their well-being. While we hope for church leaders to gain a more generous understanding of human sexuality, we pray that Catholics will continue to support progress toward transgender equality in employment, housing and civil rights and strive to make our churches a place of welcome for all Christians.