The President of an Ohio university used his title to target trans athletes & identity in a national op-ed. Here’s why that matters.

In the op-ed, Father Dave — as he is called at his university — writes that his heart breaks for  “Allison,” a female university athlete.

The president of an Ohio university has taken aim at trans athletes and trans identity in a national syndicated op-ed.

Father David Paul Pivonka has been president of Franciscan University of Steubenville since 2019. The institution is a Catholic university on the eastern border of Ohio, roughly 30 miles west of Pittsburgh.

On Thursday, he published an op-ed* entitled, “The body matters. That’s why, as university president, I am concerned for my female athletes.” The piece was originally published in USA Today and has now been picked up across the country by other publications.

In the op-ed, Father Dave — as he is called at his university — writes that his heart breaks for  “Allison,” a female athlete at his university who “may have to compete against athletes who [he] believe[s] have an unfair advantage: transgender women.”

Not that Allison has competed against a trans athlete. But that she may one day.

Father Dave at Franciscan University of Steubenville

“Tragically, it becomes another example of how the system is rigged against women because they were born women,” Father Dave wrote. “Our female athletes deserve better.”

Father Dave went on to attack UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas and to generally deny the validity of trans identity:

We can’t tell them drugs or surgery will bring their body in line with what they experience and feel. We can’t say the human body doesn’t matter when it matters greatly.

Franciscan University of Steubenville

As Father Dave is using his “university president” title as currency to garner exposure for his op-ed, here are some fun facts about Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS).

1. FUS was named one of the top schools in the Midwest in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 Best Colleges Guide. In the Fall of 2021, the university enrolled its largest class of returning undergraduate students and second-largest incoming class on record. Their total enrollment for fall 2021 was more than 3,400 students.

2. FUS is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission**, having been reaffirmed in 2015, and up for their next comprehensive visit in 2024.

3. FUS was named to the 2021 Worst List of the 180 “absolute worst, most unsafe campuses for LGBTQ+ youth.” The university qualified for the Worst List because it holds an exemption to Title IX, allowing the college to discriminate against its students on the basis of gender identity while still receiving federal funds. The FUS Nondiscrimination Statement does not offer protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

4. The FUS Student Handbook contains the following language:

    • “Sexual affection or romantic relationships of any kind between members of the same sex are outside the boundaries of God’s plan for human sexuality and contrary to human dignity.”
    • “God created us male and females, unities, of body and soul. Sexuality is not incidental, accidental, or changeable. Nor is our sexual identity as a man or woman something we choose. Rather, our sexual identity is a gift, central to God’s plan for making himself known in creation and and evident to us by the physical, psychological, and generic markers that differentiate men and women.”
    • “Marriage is a faithful, fruitful, and life-long committed relationship between one man and one woman.”
    • “Sexual acts that are inherently closed to life (such as masturbation) or that employ the use of contraception are grave and moral evils.”
    • A clause prohibiting “lewd, indecent, obscene or otherwise immoral conduct or expression that violates Catholic moral teaching on sexuality; or the promotion or advocacy of such conduct or expression.” Violations of this policy subject students to sanctions up to and including suspension.

5. Following the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that made marriage equality the law of the land, FUS released a statement condemning the decision. In that statement, the then-president of the university said the ruling went against “the true meaning of marriage” and disrespected “God’s mandate to be fruitful and multiply.”

6. In 2019, FUS hosted a 2-day conference entitled “Transgender Moment: A Natural Law Response to Gender Ideology.” The purpose of the conference was to “scrutinize the claims of the transgender moment” and “affirm an authentic anthropology backed by scientific evidence, history, philosophy, and Christian theology.” Keynote speaker Mary Hasson said “We know, as Catholics, that the human person is a unity of body and soul, created male and female forever.”

Given the extensive anti-LGBTQ+ background of Franciscan University of Steubenville, the words of their university president  are not altogether surprising. But that doesn’t mean his op-ed isn’t still damaging.

It is.

For every LGBTQ+ student at FUS — and there is undoubtedly at least one — this pushed them even further back in the closet.

And for every LGBTQ+ student at a peer evangelical university — and research reveals there are tons — seeing the leader of a fellow institution deny their existence sends the clear message that both their space and their faith are pretty darn far from safe.

One in 5 (22%) gender minority students report being bullied during their Christian college experience, and the majority (73%) of these students report that the bullying comes from someone at their college.

In the case of FUS and Father Dave, the bullying came from the university president himself.

*The Buckeye Flame is not linking to the original op-ed so as not to amplify it further.
**The author of this piece serves as a peer reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission, but is writing this piece as an individual and is in no way representing the Higher Learning Commission in this commentary. 

Ignite Action:

  • Check out Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), an organization dedicated to empowering queer, trans and non-binary students at more than 200 taxpayer-funded religious schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. 

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