As faith-based colleges and universities start up again, many LGBT students are wondering to what extent they’ll be accepted. Most schools have policies stipulating no same-sex activities will be allowed on campus (though Baylor University recently dropped that from their student handbook) but few have any policies in place beyond that.
Very few schools have policies protecting LGBT students from discrimination or harassment. Even fewer have explicit language in their student handbook saying students won’t be punished for publicly identifying as LGBT. The lack of guidelines presuppose a “don’t ask don’t tell” environment that doesn’t help LGBT students find their place.
Here are four areas where faith-based schools need explicit policies:
1. Transgender Students
Transgender students are a new hurdle for faith-based schools. For years, the questions around LGBT students have centered around same-sex attraction. Now there’s a growing awareness, and acceptance, of trans identities in society at large. But how about religious colleges? Are there adequate gender-neutral restrooms on campus? Can trans students use gender appropriate housing? Will faculty be prepared to use proper name and gender pronouns?
These are questions trans students should have the answers to before they enroll.
2. Dating & Relationships
Most faith based schools hold a traditional understanding of Scripture regarding sex. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean students aren’t allowed to date. Straight couples are allowed to date on faith-based campuses with the expectation that they will abstain from sex until marriage. Straight students dating aren’t assumed to be having sex (though some – perhaps many—are). Shouldn’t the same rules be extended to LGBT couples?
3. Official LGBT Safe Spaces
Many schools have unofficial gay straight alliances on campus. These student-run organizations are offering what their schools, at least officially, don’t – a safe space. This can be accomplished through LGBT clubs or through safe space programs (these sometimes includes signs above faculty offices that say students are safe to talk about sexual and gender identity). Just like any other minority group, schools need to have official programs or clubs that allow LGBT students to congregate for fellowship and discussions.
4. Education for Faculty and Administrators
Anyone employed by a faith-based school should undergo LGBT training. The point isn’t to change theological perspectives but to educate people on the basics of sexual and gender identities. More often than not, the average faculty member isn’t equipped with the basic understanding of LGBT identities. This ignorance can cause unfortunate interactions with LGBT students in the classroom.
Many times LGBT students aren’t comfortable coming out to administrators. They’ll be looking for guidance their student handbooks. If those handbooks don’t have the guidelines in place, LGBT students won’t have the road map for their time on campus. At a time when many faith-based schools expel LGBT students, it’s important to know if any policies exist in the first place.
If churches engage with LGBT members once a week for a few hours, faith-based schools must deal with students day in day out, 10 months out of the year. Perhaps more so than churches, faith based schools need to be prepared to interact with LGBT persons in their care.
This means that LGBT students need to know whether their school is ready to take them on and allow them to grow and prosper.