How Title IX exemptions force LGBT students to suffer in silence

(RNS) 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.

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

(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)

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