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Loretto Learns about Gender Identity

Posted on September 1, 2019, by Eileen Harrington CoL

We aspire to be inclusive. We work for justice. Today, these core Loretto values call us to develop an understanding about gender identity as an element of individual identity. For many of us, this is new. For many in our society, especially members of generations younger than ours, this is neither new nor unfamiliar. Learning about gender identity is, in part, the intergenerational work of bridge-building.

Loretto’s core values call us to develop an understanding about gender identity as an element of individual identity.

We know that the work of being inclusive should be done by those who already have the privilege of being included. Members of the Loretto Community, like the larger society in which we live, mostly identify as male or female (cisgender), the traditional binary notion of gender identity. But when we consider the larger Loretto Community of students, Loretto Volunteers, employees, staff and possibly some vowed and co-members of Loretto, we will most certainly find persons whose gender identities are non-binary (transgender, transsexual, gender fluid, for example).

During the month of July, I met about gender identity with interested Community members in St. Louis, Denver, at the Loretto Motherhouse and with members of the El Paso Community by Zoom.

We know that the work of being inclusive should be done by those who already have the privilege of being included.

In St. Louis, we gathered for lunch and conversation at Mary Louise Denny and Susan Carol McDonald’s house. In Denver, we met on a Saturday afternoon in the dining room at Havern. We had a session after supper in the Conference Room at the Motherhouse, held in conjunction with the Mission Activities Team meeting. And we met by Zoom on a Sunday afternoon with the El Paso Community. 

At these informal information sessions, I provided context and basic information about gender identity and how it is a completely different element of identity from sexual orientation.

Meeting with members of the Community only, folks were comfortable asking questions and admitting, with gentle self-deprecating humor, to sometimes hilarious assumptions and points of not knowing: “I thought use of gender neutral pronouns indicated that a person is lesbian or gay”; “I have no idea what a person means when they identify as non-binary”; “I assumed that transgender people are homosexual.”

There is no excuse now for not doing the work needed to be truly welcoming, understanding, supportive and inclusive.

Each and every one of us had, at some point, found ourselves wondering about the meanings of various terms that are used in gender identity discussions. We all had a fear of saying the wrong thing or offending someone because of our lack of knowledge.

Everyone understood that, while there is no shame for past misunderstanding because of  lack of information, there is no excuse now for not doing the work needed to be truly welcoming, understanding, supportive and inclusive.

In the information sessions, I conveyed basic information and provided a glossary to help learn and understand the language. I shared that I am by no means an authority on the subject of gender identity, but rather like most of us come to this subject with very little knowledge or understanding. The thing I do understand, however, is that this is a matter of justice.

Our belief that we are connected as siblings, each one a precious child of God, compels us to learn and speak out.

As some government, education and religious organizations attack, exclude and discriminate against persons whose gender identity is non-binary, our belief that we are connected as siblings, each one a precious child of God, compels us to learn and speak out. This is why the Mission Activities Team brought this issue to the Forum, and why the Forum asked me to do the work of providing information to all members of the Loretto Community.

Watch for announcements in the fall about information sessions by Zoom. Once we have given everyone in Loretto the opportunity to participate in a Loretto members-only information session where we hope people will feel comfortable asking and saying what they need to know or say, we likely will schedule additional sessions that include friends and others who identify as non-binary or gender fluid.

We know that we understand best when we can listen deeply to others’ stories, and we want to make those opportunities available.

Eileen Harrington CoL

Eileen Harrington CoL

Eileen Harrington CoL coordinates Loretto’s peace and justice work and edits the Community’s “Midweek Mission Message.” She teaches public policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and administrative law at the University of Arizona College of Law. Eileen has spent nearly 30 years in senior executive, leadership and policy positions at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
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Loretto welcomes you

Learn more or plan a visit to the Motherhouse!