Title IX Offers Religious Exemptions

Title IX Offers Religious Exemptions

Written by: Emily Grim

A group of students walk east across campus. The University of Central Oklahoma was the first four-year college to include protections for LGBT students. (Ryan Naeve/The Vista)

While there is legislation to ensure equal protections for all students on college campuses, it is still legal, in some cases, for colleges and universities to freely discriminate against certain individuals.

Title IX, the 1972 law that originally prohibited discrimination against women in federally-funded educational institutions, states that schools that discriminated against students based on sex would lose federal funding. In 2014, it was extended to include protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

There is, however, an exception. Colleges and universities can request a waiver on the basis of religion. The U.S. Department of Education’s website shows that 106 institutions either hold or have requested a religious exemption from Title IX.

Of those colleges, nine are in Oklahoma.

“Yes, we were granted an exemption and we are proud of it,” said Oklahoma Wesleyan University President Everett Piper.

After Title IX was expanded in 2014, the number of applications for waivers rose quickly. In 2015, 43 institutions applied.

All of them have received, and continue to receive, federal funding.

Institutions that do not hold Title IX waivers have been investigated or sued for alleged discrimination or participation in anti-gay practices or programs. Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma City does not hold a Title IX waiver, but expelled a student after marrying a same-gender partner in 2014.

Other schools without waivers have been called into question as well. Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California asked a transgender professor to leave and was sued over an alleged cover-up of anti-gay violence. Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan refused to allow a bake sale’s profits to go to homeless LGBT youth, and Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts denied a professor a promotion presumably because she supported LGBT rights.

In addition to Title IX waivers and discrimination of or infringement upon equal treatment of LGBT students, presidents of some institutions have signed or upheld the Nashville Statement. This evangelical Christian statement decried homosexuality and transgender people, as well as claiming that any support of the LGBT community is a sin.

Anti-gay sentiments from other students have been a concern for LGBT students as well. Many students worry about treatment from professors and colleagues after coming out, especially if they are involved in student organizations, live in student housing or are involved in religious sororities or fraternities.

“Having a religious background myself, it’s hard trying to be a part of religious organizations on campus whenever you know that when I do show my true, genuine self, those organizations might not be as kind to me as they are right now,” said a UCO student, who asked to remain anonymous. “Experiencing homophobia while in the closet can be harmful to closeted LGBT youth. They openly use homophobia and a lot of slurs that they don’t know offends me because I’m not out of the closet.”

The Association of American Universities reported that LGBT students are also at a higher risk for sexual harassment and assault. An AAU conducted survey found that three in four LGBT college students reported experiencing sexual harassment and nine percent reported being raped.

Though many colleges and universities have been accused of bigotry against the LGBT community, there are some that have worked to address anti-LGBT sentiments on college campuses and openly support all students.

The University of Central Oklahoma was the first four-year institution in Oklahoma to include LGBT students as a protected class, and continues to work to support students through the Student Alliance for Equality and the Women’s Research Center and BGLTQ+ Student Center.

“I think housing does all they can to make people comfortable because this is supposed to be your home, obviously you want to feel comfortable in it,” said Sydney Martineau, resident assistant at UCO.

Martineau said that all RA’s must undergo two weeks of training on campus policies and resources.

“We have different speakers come in to share their knowledge as well,” Martineau said.

Dr. David Macey, assistant vice president for Global and Cultural Competencies and SAFE’s faculty advisor, said some faculty and staff members at UCO are currently working on resources such as gender identity and expression on applications, gender neutral housing and the ability to list preferred names and pronouns on attendance or roll sheets.

“I think the most important thing, to the extent you can do so safely and comfortably, is to be out about who you are,” Macey said.

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