Catholic teachers need to maintain relationships anchored in love when dealing with gender-confused students, psychologist Julia Sadusky says. “There are philosophical forces acting on students that they don’t understand,” Sadusky told Catholic teachers, principals, and counsellors. (Gregg Webb photo courtesy of

Build relationships before dealing with gender confusion, Catholic teachers urged

Despite the growing parental backlash towards gender ideology and its related political movements, Dr. Julia Sadusky says teachers need to “put aside their inner culture warrior” when dealing with gender-questioning students.

In a talk at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre for Catholic school teachers, Sadusky outlined an approach teachers can take with gender-confused students that focuses on accompaniment while maintaining their integrity as Catholic teachers. 

The most important thing, she said, is the need to maintain relationships anchored in love. 

Sadusky is a licensed psychologist who works with families and individuals struggling with sex and gender issues. With a bachelor’s degree from Ave Maria University in Florida and a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology from Regent University in Virginia, she has written or co-written numerous books on Christian views of sex and gender. 

A sign against gender ideology in schools at a protest in Boston. Catholic teachers in Vancouver hear that teachers can work with gender-confused students in a way that focuses on accompaniment while maintaining their integrity as Catholic teachers. (OSV News photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

Her talk was aimed at helping teachers understand and navigate the ever-shifting linguistic landscape around sex and gender while addressing some key concerns that Catholic educators might have about transgenderism and sexual orientation. 

Sadusky dealt with concerns around student/teacher engagement, classroom questions, and how to engage with students with sex and gender issues in an authentic way that doesn’t compromise the teacher’s or school’s Catholic identity. 

“There are philosophical forces acting on students that they don’t understand,” Sadusky said to a room full of Catholic teachers, principals, and counsellors. 

Sadusky gave an example of a 14-year-old patient who quoted gender studies author Judith Butler, saying, “Gender is not an essence we possess, but a performance we engage in.” When pressed, the teen said she’d gotten the quote from Twitter but had no idea who said it. 

“These things impact young people, how they think about themselves and other people, and how they experience the trickle-down of philosophy and how it applies to daily life,” Sadusky said. 

Teachers must cultivate an attitude of curiosity about their students and what they are saying, says psychologist Dr. Julia Sadusky. (

The student relationship becomes a challenge for teachers. Not only is it next to impossible to keep up with the shifting language being employed to describe various gender identities, but that constant change interferes with a teacher’s ability to know what an appropriate response might be, for example to a student requesting a name change or saying they are gay. 

The reality is that if “Sally” identifies as gay, she could be saying any number of things: that she is actively engaged in a homosexual lifestyle, or, far more likely, that she has been feeling attraction for another girl – not an unheard of occurrence for a teenager of either sex – and doesn’t know how to process it. 

Teachers must cultivate an attitude of curiosity about their students and what they are saying. Sadusky suggests asking simple questions like, “What drew you to use that term?”

Fundamentally, teachers were encouraged to put aside any angst they have about gender ideology and the linguistic mess it creates and engage students with charity and respect. 

“When a student approaches a teacher, it’s a desire to have the teacher weigh in on their experience,” she said. “God is asking something different of you than if they came in with a pride flag and wanting to have a march at the school.”

In some sense, said Sadusky, it doesn’t matter if a Catholic teacher agrees or disagrees with gender ideology. Teenagers value authenticity and, like everyone else, simply want to be heard and understood.

Teachers’ central concern, said Sadusky, should be that when Sally looks back on their interaction she believes the teacher cared about her, rather than simply lecturing her about the cultural/political implications of the word “gay.”

A teacher’s impulse to correct the student with Catholic language – for example exchanging “gay” with “same-sex attraction” could very well alienate the student, she said.

“Mirror their language early in the relationship,” she said, “and if you want to use a term that isn’t theirs, you need to define it and explain why you used it.”“If you mock the language that is being used by teenagers, they will mock you,” she warned. 

In Sadusky’s view, there is no need for a teacher to know why a student is the way they are – although it may help in some cases. Rather, they should simply accompany them. 

Teachers are not therapists, she said, advising them not to use clinical terms like “gender dysphoria” unless speaking in a clinical context. 

Although much of the discussion focused on interpersonal relationships between students and teachers, Catholic schools still need to be Catholic in terms of curriculum, she said.

Emphasizing sexual stewardship is a good way for Catholic schools to address issues of sex and gender, she said, while promoting vocations can help provide questioning youth with a vision for their future that doesn’t require marriage and children. 

“Heterosexuality is not a requirement for Christian life and virtue,” she said. 

Despite the real concerns about where the culture is going regarding gender ideology, Sadusky advised teachers to place their inner culture warrior aside when dealing with students and remember that they are teachers, not activists.


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