Are L.G.B.T. students welcome at Christian colleges? In California, the signals are mixed.

After months of controversy that had a number of California’s religious leaders speaking out, California State Senator Ricardo Lara has amended his proposed legislation targeting religious higher education institutions. As originally crafted, SB-1146, “The Equity in Higher Education Act,” would have effectively erased the Title IX anti-discrimination exemption for all religious schools that receive any state funds except those that are explicitly seminaries.

Senator Lara, a Democrat who represents a portion of southern Los Angeles County, had intended the legislation as a means of protecting L.G.B.T. students from discrimination, citing cases in which L.G.B.T. students believed that they had been expelled from religious institutions on the basis of their sexual identity. He also pointed to experiences of transgender students being denied gender-appropriate housing and some even being expelled.  

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In April, Lara said :

All students deserve to feel safe in institutions of higher education, regardless of whether they are public or private. California has established strong protections for the LGBTQ community and private universities should not be able to use faith as an excuse to discriminate and avoid complying with state laws. No university should have a license to discriminate.
 

In an August press release, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez and Charles E. Blake of the Church of God in Christ Bishop praised the “salutary purpose” of the legislation but argued it went far beyond its goal. Indeed, Gomez, Blake and many others noted that the real burden of the legislation would likely fall on low-income and minority students, as religious schools would likely stop accepting state-funded financial aid as a result.  

Gomez and Blake also argued that protecting L.G.B.T. students could be done much more easily, by having institutions clearly lay out their expectations relative to sexual and gender identity ahead of time. And in its new version that is most of what the act will demand: clear and regular disclosure both in written materials and on campus that an institution has a Title IX exemption. The amended act also requires a quarterly report from religious institutions detailing any and all expulsions and whether those students received Cal Grants.

Gomez and Blake’s press release is worth reading for the overall respect and thoughtfulness of its arguments. It lacks the histrionics that sometimes mar religious liberty conversations, clearly and simply laying out the problems and also giving Lara credit for what is a legitimate underlying concern.  

And yet at the same time an area of concern remains. A school clearly identifying itself as exempt from Title IX may help prospective students make better decisions related to their own needs and desires. But it does nothing to protect the rights of L.G.B.T. students, faculty or staff who are at these schools, or those who will choose to come, or those who will discover their sexual or gender identity while in college, a not uncommon phenomenon even today.

Nor does it tell such students what rights or protections they can expect to have in such an institution or what sort of treatment they can reasonably expect. Can a student be expelled based solely on who they are in a relationship with or their choice of gender identity? In a school oriented around a loving, welcoming God, one would hope not.

One would hope that schools would be up front and clear one way or another. Keeping things ambiguous may serve them from a public relations  perspective; but for students, that ambiguity creates anxiety and fear.

And arguing, as Gomez and Blake do at the end of their statement, that “no one is compelled to attend a private religious college or university,” does not improve that situation. Indeed, if anything it offers yet another mixed signal about whether L.G.B.T. students should truly believe they are welcome in California’s Christian schools.

Jim McDermott, S.J., a screenwriter, is America’s Los Angeles correspondent. Twitter: @PopCulturPriest.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Kevin Murphy
1 year 3 months ago
Does it ever occur to Father McDermott that a Catholic school could simply state that it upholds Catholic teaching on sexuality, or does he not accept, or is ashamed of, that teaching? Even Pope Francis has railed recently against the belief that one can "choose" a gender identity, an idea which Father McDermott accepts. I am so tired of priests who want to be loved and "progressive" rather than uphold the often difficult truths of the Faith.
Crystal Watson
1 year 3 months ago
The schools could discriminate all they want to if they would let the government's money go, but they want to do both = discriminate against LGBT people and keep the money.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 3 months ago
Crystal - The faith is just too important to be threatened in this way. The government can call any specifically faithful rule to be discriminatory. And the government will forever justify its coercion with words like "equality." For example, many Catholic schools have separate men and women dorms. This will now be seen to violate new transgender ideas of fairness. Catholic schools have rules against sexual behavior on campus. Catholic schools require teachers not to teach against the faith, by word or action. Some schools close shops on Sundays. These are all seen as discriminatory in the secular world. Any moral code can be interpreted as discriminatory. In the letter by the bishops, there is this about the Christian students "nearly 60 percent are minorities and nearly 90 percent need financial aid." This is the Cal Grants financial aid program. So, the losers would largely be minorities (mostly Hispanics). However, while the bishops say they are willing to give up the state funds in order to preserve their mission, they don't want to hurt the poor. The LGBTQIA community makes up a few percent (2-3%) and Catholic schools are probably not high on their wish list. So, this bill would hurt 60% to help 2% - all in the name of discrimination against Catholic beliefs. This is the reason the bill failed.
Crystal Watson
1 year 3 months ago
1) The bishops and the schools don't have to hurt the poor - they can scale back the price of tuition and pay for scholarships themselves. No one forces Boston College, for example, to charge tuition that's almost 10 times more expensive than the state college I attended in California. 2) It doesn't matter how low the percentage of LGBT people is among the population, the state cannot use taxpayer money to fund an institution that is going to use that money to discriminate against some of those very taxpayers. It's not only immortal, it's against the law.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 3 months ago
It's not the law, since they are preserving religious freedom (for now). But, I am in favor of all Catholic schools refusing to take government funds. It's dirty money if it's tied to compromising one's faith. Also, all colleges should lower their tuition, and pay the professors far less. In the hierarchy of grievance groups, for progressives, LGBT > racial minorities > women > poor families.
Crystal Watson
1 year 3 months ago
Well, I'm in 2 of those groups - low income and female. I think we should try to help them all equally :)
Tim O'Leary
1 year 3 months ago
But, you are already educated and don't need financial aid for college :). I also doubt many colleges teach people real knowledge or how to think and I don't think government should tax workers to just pay for gender exploration studies and how to hate their country and church..
David Staszak
1 year 3 months ago
Yikes: "choose", really? The Olympics are going on right now so now is a good time to take a look at the problems that exist with determining who is a woman in terms of eligibility to compete in the Olympics. Do some reading. I doubt that someone who has XXY chromosomes, or woman with high testosterone levels, but with or with out the ability for their systems to use it, or a woman who has internal testes in place of a uterus and ovaries have this situation by choice. My point is that we are learning more and more everyday and we are finding that much having to do with gender and sexuality is far from mere "choice". So as long is no one is harmed (I don't care if a priest is a pedophile as long as he doesn't act on it!) we need to learn to acccept people as God made them.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 3 months ago
I agree with you David, that those with biological evidence (chromosomal or hormonal) are a special case that should be given great care and sensitivity (and medical treatment, if needed). I think the incidence is about 1 in 1600. But, I do care if a priest is a pedophile, even if he doesn't act on it. Better for anyone aware of those inclinations not to be admitted into the priesthood. Choice has to play some role though, for all sexual activity and even for enabling/declaring/discovering an orientation. See this article - http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160627-i-am-gay-but-i-wasnt-born-this-way).
Crystal Watson
1 year 3 months ago
It's shameful that it's the government that can be counted on to protect the rights of minorities and that it's the church that is trying to hold on to both its 'right' to discriminate and the money it gets from the government. How has it come to this that the church champions discrimination?
Tim O'Leary
1 year 3 months ago
See my comment below. This bill would have hurt 60% of students to "benefit" 2%. But, this is revealing - "But it does nothing to protect the rights of L.G.B.T. students, faculty or staff who are at these schools, or those who will choose to come, or those who will discover their sexual or gender identity while in college, a not uncommon phenomenon even today." Discover is the key word that implies a non-obvious identity. One is being asked to discriminate the poor to advantage a fluid identity. Certainly argues against something innate and hard-wired, known since childhood, etc.
Robert Lewis
1 year 3 months ago
In my opinion, much of the problems here could be sorted if "gay" or "bisexual" young adults--those in high school, at least--could be asked to be honest, at the time of enrollment, about what their sexual orientation actually is--"fluid," or "undecided" or "same-sex," or "opposite-sex-attracted" and then allow the schools to make a decision regarding registration as a student THEN. Once, having accepted such a student contractually, the schools will be required to make appropriate accommodation, i.e. full rights to "openness" and "equal participation." I know that somebody, like Mr. O'Leary below, will bristle at such a suggestion, but I assure you, as a modern educator, the day is coming when Catholic institutions will hear, at enrollment time, either from parents or the students themselves, that they are "out and proud" "gay" folk, and then the admissions officers of such schools are going to have to make decision that may be financially and legally difficult, and they will not have to wait until after the kid is sure about his or her orientation. Truthfulness is always ethical, and when someone has been thoroughly and completely truthful about him or herself, it will be difficult to treat him or her unequally.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 3 months ago
Robert - I don't "bristle" at the suggestion at all that everyone should be honest at the time of enrollment. I think it the best policy. My position is that the Catholic faith is good and essential for everyone, no matter what specific talents or crosses they bear. We need to evangelize all, but with the fullness of the faith, a well-considered faith that seeks to bring the whole Gospel to people at all stages in their faith journey, the unvarnished truth. It is morally reprehensible, if not spiritually criminal, to offer some watered-down, invented-yesterday, feel-good version based on provisional pseudo-scientific theories that deprive people of saving grace. Several theologians have done a great disservice to those with same-sex attraction, by seeking popularity and acceptance with a shallow, jerry-rigged (meaning not careful or complete) and partial response to their deep-seated spiritual needs. Given the fluidity of teenage years and the gender confusion and experimentation promoted by today's culture, it is especially important that potential students are presented with love AND truth. And the government, that knows nothing about the spiritual life, should stay out of the way. If they want to provide funds for poor students, they should follow the students to whatever accredited college the students want to go to, not without further restrictions on the college (a true "college choice" system).
David Harvie
1 year 3 months ago
Just like the church needs to get out of the state-sanctioned marriage business, they need to get away from accepting public funds. Then they are free to set whatever rules they want. In the meantime, discrimination never works. While we are at it, let's make sure all the cohabiting heterosexuals are fired. Also, let's check to make sure no birth control is being used. Divorced and remarried, you are out too. We will have such a pure church...maybe not the one that Jesus seemed to want but very pure.
William Rydberg
1 year 3 months ago
A prominent Iman in Italy has said that it may be time to ease back on civil law restrictions on polygamous marriage. Based upon the string of logic, Italian Government ought to rush to permit. Social welfare legislation will also need to be revised. More taxes raised etc..

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