A participant wears an LGBT flag as people take part in the annual Mermaid Parade in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz - RTX2GYSR

How Title IX exemptions force LGBT students to suffer in silence

(RNS) Right now, students at several dozen universities across the nation can be fired from campus jobs, suspended or expelled based solely on identifying as LGBT. This should be an embarrassment not only for the universities, but also for a federal government that has otherwise supported equality.

As a leader of Bison 4 Equality, an on-campus movement at Oklahoma Baptist University, I saw firsthand the freedom these schools have to legally discriminate against students.

That's because religious colleges may now claim an exemption from federal Title IX regulations that bar discrimination against LGBT students and faculty. Human Rights Watch, which calls the Title IX religious exemption “a license to discriminate,” reports there are 56 schools nationwide that have requested such exemptions, including Wheaton College, Liberty University and George Fox University.

This is not some abstract danger: My school’s administrators coined the term “right to discriminate” in reference to the firing of a bisexual student worker. This is an immediate threat that is costing students their jobs, housing and education. The campus community of OBU no longer feels safe because that community is segregated between those who are protected under the law, and those who are not.

As a bisexual male, I was not protected. And when a man I was dating last fall physically assaulted me, I felt the full impact of how vulnerable my school’s Title IX waiver made me. The circumstances surrounding what happened aren’t as important as the situation it put me in.

Because it was an assault by an intimate partner on campus, accurately and truthfully reporting what happened would have meant outing both of us. This meant we could lose our jobs, be kicked out of university housing and potentially be expelled.

Since we both attended a class together, reporting the incident at a school that provided its students with protection under Title IX would have likely meant that he would be moved to a different section so I wouldn’t have to relive that night every class period for the rest of the semester.

Instead, since my school chose to place its political interests ahead of its students, my only options were to attend class with him, report the attack and risk both of our futures, or drop out.

Almost every university that has applied for one of these Title IX waivers has cited adherence to its “religious tenets” as the primary reason for the request; but interestingly, when pressured, no university has been able to produce evidence that its religious beliefs prohibit the school from ensuring the education and safety of LGBT students.

Unfortunately, rather than investigating these claims, the Department of Education has chosen to put students at risk by allowing these schools the “right to discriminate.”

This flies in the face of the federal government's outspoken support for students in K-12 schools who are transgender and hurts those same students once they move on to higher education opportunities.

There is nothing special or unique about my story. At schools across the country, students are being forced to make impossible choices between their safety and their education.

No one should ever have to make that choice, and Title IX is an important step toward making sure no one does. Title IX wasn’t created for schools that already protect their students; it was created for schools that don’t. But right now, the students who need those Title IX protections the most are those attending schools that are not legally required to provide them. That needs to change.

(Tristan Campbell transferred to the University of Central Oklahoma, where he is now a junior)


  1. Religious schools should not be receiving state funding in the first place and thus shouldn’t be covered under Title IX anyways. It’s ridiculous to think a religious institution, or any private organization, shouldn’t have the right to place whatever rules or standards it wants on prospective members (No one, for example, thinks a Vegan group should be forced to stop discriminating and let me, with my meat-rich diet, join them), but private organizations do not need public money.

    I, the TAXPAYER, should not need to be paying for YOU, author, to be attending a religious organization. You are not expected to subsidize MY religious pursuits, why should I be expected to do so for YOU?? Your school should get no funding and should be charging you more.

    Title IX regulations in general, though, are just terrible. They encourage SCHOOLS to police matters BEST handled by LAW ENFORCEMENT. It’s a terrible system, terrible for the victims who must suffer through having their cases handled by an educational institution that is simply not equipped to launch investigations and who lacks the legal authority to get justice anyways.

    So there’s a bunch of problems with these institutions and the fact they take public money and a bunch of problems with Title IX in the first place. But I don’t see how forcing schools to adopt Title IX against their will will help. I don’t see how your solution, ALLOWING a private, religious organization to receive taxpayer money AND forcing it to use a broken system that does not serve victims will help anyone.

    Just cut all funding to religious institutions by default, and let law enforcement and legal channels handle what SHOULD be legal matters.

  2. And why should I, as a taxpayer who is a theist, be subsidizing secularist institutions? Let us get rid of all state funding of all educational institutions from kindergarten upwards rather than privileging one philosophical worldview and stream of thought over another.

  3. Because you have a secular government. Religious freedom demands that governments be secular in order to protect the religious faith of all of its citizens.

    Religious institutions which feel the need to take government money have to deal with the rules which come from taking it. Christian bigots feel this unnecessary need to discriminate using government money and services.

  4. How does o e prove they are bisexual in public? Why should one’s sexual practices matter in public?

  5. Granting Title IX exemptions simply due to someone’s religious opinion – or that of a corporation or school – pretty much guts those protections since conservative Christians are leading the charge.

  6. Why would anyone want to attend or work for a religious school whose moral principles they disagree with? That would be like wanting to work for the Communist Party while being a died-in-the-wool Free Marketeer, or an atheist wanting to join an organization seeking to promote Catholic teachings.

  7. Why indeed? After all. Nothing safeguards democracy, freedom, and civilization so much as an uneducated populace.

  8. That’s a good question DougH. I think there are several possible answers.

    The school may have offered a scholarship.
    The school may have just the program the student needs.
    The school may be within a necessary geographic region.
    The school may be an excellent institution in every other way.

  9. who is getting educated in gov’t schools? they are getting indoctrinated, which of course is the purpose.

  10. Of course. It couldn’t possibly be education.

  11. All good reasons — but none of them excuses students choosing a religious school knowing full well the moral boundaries it sets, then demanding that those moral boundaries not be applied to them. When you join an organization, you agree to play by its rules. If you can’t in good faith agree to do so, go somewhere else.

    Mind, for minor things this can bump up against the “reasonable accommodation” aspect of the 1st Amendment’s protection of religious exercise — but requiring a religious organization to violate its own moral teachings is not reasonable.

  12. You have good points too. A couple things I’m thinking about:

    17-18 year olds often don’t really comprehend the reality of 4 years living as a fake self.
    That age group tends to be very idealistic and may believe they can change the institution.
    I don’t think the enormous pressure of economic need can be underestimated.

    None of that is to say that the institution does not have the right to make the rules, however wrong headed they may be, as long as those rules are constitutional. It is a pity some schools force students into such a painful moral quandry.

  13. That is such a cute bit of projection there.

    “3. Projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common form of projection occurs when an individual, threatened by his own angry feelings, accuses another of harbouring hostile thoughts. in personality: Freud.”

  14. You’re right that teenagers and young adults often lack necessary judgment when making these decisions, which is why one hopes that they have more experienced adults to offer advice. And if they don’t or choose to ignore that advice, they’ll simply have to learn from the School of Hard Knocks — like the young people that recently petitioned the corporation where they were interning to change the dress code and ended up fired.

  15. It’s not about discriminating against students! If a man abused his girlfriend at a religious college while they were having sex, they would both be disciplined. Those policies are not focused solely on LGBT students. They’re focused on following the laws of God. The Bible teaches that premarital sex and extramarital sex are wrong. It also teaches that homosexuality is wrong. So in accordance with that, schools that have a code of conduct based on religious tenets really are focused on living their religion. It’s not a “right to discriminate,” it’s a right to the free exercise of religion, as promised by the Constitution! The purpose isn’t to discriminate, it’s to encourage all to follow God’s laws. And if you don’t want to do that, don’t attend a school that requires you to.

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