Developing a Gender Inclusion Policy at University Receives Push Back From Catholic Group

A proposed "gender inclusion" policy at the University of North Dakota received push back from a group representing North Dakota's Roman Catholic bishops.

On behalf of Bishop David Kagan of Bismark and Bishop John Folda of Fargo, the North Dakota Catholic Conference wrote a letter this week about the possible policy asking parents "to examine whether it is conducive or hostile to not only the Catholic faith but also the truth about the human person."

The letter, written by North Dakota Catholic Conference Executive Director Christopher Dodson, said UND's proposal "embraces and demands acceptance of a particular ideology about gender and language that is contrary to Catholic teaching and infringes upon free speech and religious rights."

Dodson wrote the policy is a "rejection of any assumption of a binary or biological-based gender," according to the Grand Forks Herald.

The drafted policy would mandate the use of a transgender person's preferred pronouns, as well as the use of bathrooms, locker rooms, and other living facilities that align with a person's gender identity.

UND President Andrew Armacost said several of the Catholic Conference's claims regarding the policy "simply aren't true."

"The draft policy was not a case of a campus going rogue," Armacost said in an online town hall meeting Wednesday. "We began drafting this gender inclusion policy to implement federal law, Supreme Court rulings," and state and higher education policy.

"Our draft policy is intended to protect transgender members from harassment and discrimination, consistent with those federal laws and state policies," Armacost said. "We are firmly committed to free religious expression and fully recognize that, as we address the rights of one group, we cannot do it to the detriment of the rights of another group."

UND, Gender Inclusion Policy, Catholic Opposers
UND President Andrew Armacost said several of the Catholic Conference’s claims regarding the proposed gender inclusion policy “simply aren’t true.” In this photo, students walk to class on the campus of the University of North Dakota on Dec. 4, 2003, in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Grand Forks-based school has an enrollment of about 13,780 students. It is believed to be the first of North Dakota's 11 public colleges and universities to begin crafting such a wide-ranging gender inclusion policy.

Armacost, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he will reach out to the Catholic Conference leadership and he intends to hold a press conference Friday at the university to discuss the policy and to clarify any "misunderstandings" about it.

Armacost said the policy was drafted earlier this year and got feedback from university officials and others. He will have the final approval on the policy, though he does not know when that will be.

"I want to be patient on this," he said. "I don't want to pick a timeline."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.