In the near future, the Minnesota State High School League will discuss additions to the student policies for high school athletes in the state of Minnesota. Sadly, the major proposal in play deals with conforming high school venues (competitions, locker rooms, bathrooms, etc.) to transgender student athletes. Below is a letter I wrote to Dave Stead, the executive director of the Minnesota State High School League:
I write this a former three-sport athlete who participated in Minnesota High School athletics from 1997-2002. I also write as a Roman Catholic priest as I am currently serving as a pastor in International Falls and Littlefork, Minnesota and I still compete in marathons, road races and triathlons today.
In many ways, I attribute my faith and vocation to the priesthood through my experiences in athletics. As a son of health and physical education teachers, and as a son of a basketball coach, athletics has been part of my life since I was a kid. It was through running, track and field and basketball that I learned teamwork, discipline, setting and achieving goals and the healthy atmosphere of competition. I firmly believe athletics and following Jesus are perfectly compatible.
I am disappointed in the proposed addition to the MSHSL Student Policy. In writing this, I am in no way condemning transgender students. I believe we are to work with any student in a spirit of love and openness and any forms of bullying or acts of bigotry are to be avoided at all costs.
However, I believe these additions will be harmful to athletic competition and the reputation of the MSHSL in several ways.
First, I have concerns about the rights of students who would disagree with lifestyle choices made by a transgender student. While such a student can make such a choice in our country, this choice should not impinge on the right to privacy in locker rooms or bathrooms of other students. The practical conclusions of such additions should be considered--will all students be comfortable changing, showering or using the bathroom with a transgender student? Should they be? (I think not). Will their fundamental rights to religion be impeded by such additions?
Second, the very choice to proceed in a sex-change is controversial and most religious organizations (including the Catholic Church) do not support them. The proposed adaptations to the student policies would go above and beyond the Minnesota State High School League's legal obligations to students in the state of Minnesota. In so doing, they would impinge on the religious freedom of schools participating in MSHSL competition. They would pressure students, teachers and schools to conform to situations in which society has no right to dictate. The last entity--schools--is of special concern to me as I am a pastor of an elementary school.
Third, athletics has always been a refuge to me from our polarized political culture. Sports gives me an avenue to relax (when viewing) and compete in a healthy atmosphere. I have noticed that sports outlets--especially ESPN--have become increasingly political and that saddens me. Sports are meant to foster unity as they connect athletes from diverse cultural, economic, political and religious backgrounds. I do not want to see the MSHSL enter into political discussions or be bullied by special interest groups that do not account for the rights of all students, especially those who hold religious convictions.
This is all to write that I respectfully disagree with the proposed MSHSL Transgender Student Policy. I do not envy you or other members of the board who have been forced to address this question so publicly and will be keeping the proceedings in prayer. Know that you have many clear-thinking supporters who understand the difference between disagreeing with a choice yet being open to loving everyone. If the MSHSL was to reject these proposed changes, it would in no way reflect poorly on their support of high school athletes. On the contrary, I would see this as a sign you are doing just that--supporting all high school athletes.
Fr. Ben Hadrich
Pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Columban Catholic Parishes
810 5th St.
International Falls, MN 56649