Queer News On Campus [QNOC] Articles Digest
For the week ending 2009.12.13
Brought to you by the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. http://www.lgbtcampus.org
Archives of the QNOC Digest can be found at http://queernewsoncampus.blogspot.com
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1. The Red and Black - Lambda Alliance dons gay apparel
2. Columbia Spectator - CCSC disputes Post's gender-neutral housing story
3. CNN - University considers 'gender-neutral' housing
4. Inside Higher Ed - Conflicting Rights
5. The New York Times - Rights and Religion Clash in Court
6. The Badger Herald - LGBT rights ralliers march to Capitol
7. ABC News - Gay Students Wanting to Be Seen
8. The Washington Post - Gay group carves out niche at Catholic University
9. The Washington Post - Georgetown U. tries to be Catholic and gay-friendly
1. The Red and Black, December 4, 2009
540 Baxter Street, Athens GA, 30605
Lambda Alliance dons gay apparel
By Briana Gerdeman
The Lambda Alliance is getting in the holiday spirit with a drag show tonight.
"This one we're actually kind of dubbing a Christmas theme," said Skyler Musgrove, Lambda's director of education and the emcee for the show. "It's called 'Don We Now Our Gay Apparel.'"
Because this year's show is near the holidays, many acts are performing holiday songs.
"We didn't make it mandatory to do holiday themed songs, but several acts are," Musgrove said.
The show will raise money and awareness for the Lambda Alliance, which serves the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally students, faculty and staff at the University.
"All of the proceeds … are going to Lambda's subcommittee that's trying to get the non-discrimination policy changed," said Musgrove, a senior telecommunications and anthropology major from Douglasville.
The University's non-discrimination policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but does not specifically protect transgender students and faculty. This means that if a student who was born male but identifies as a female comes to the University, they are still assigned to a male dorm unless they have undergone gender reassignment surgery.
Musgrove said the show will be more formal than a normal drag show because it takes place on campus rather than in the typical setting of a bar.
Molly Moore, Lambda's director of outreach, said the show has "a really wide range of performers, and usually they go from satirical to just dance."
She and Musgrove were also involved in planning last year's show - "God Save the Kings and Queens."
"We really wanted to get into drag, and it's kind of hard to get into the drag scene in Athens," said Moore, a sophomore education major from Snellville.
The two are planning a joint performance of "Dick in a Box" by the Lonely Island.
"I really admire Justin Timberlake, so I'm going to do 'Summer Love,' and me and Skyler are going to do a joke performance of 'Dick in a Box' for the holiday season," Moore said.
Students should note that audience members are encouraged to tip performers.
Musgrove did his first drag performance for Lambda's show last year, and since then has started performing with the Classic City Kings, a local drag king troupe.
"Last year I first decided to start doing drag," he said. "I'm actually a transvestite, and drag kind of helped me facilitate that, being comfortable in my skin of being male and female."
2. Columbia Spectator, December 7, 2009
2875 Broadway, Suite 303, New York, NY 10025
CCSC disputes Post's gender-neutral housing story
By Elizabeth Scott
Media outlets have latched onto the image of Columbia students who will “live in sin on their parents’ dime,” (or so said a New York Post article from Sunday), but council representatives say the intent behind possibly making rooms co-ed has been lost.
The objective of the proposal is to allow students the freedom to live with those they feel most comfortable with, a fact which has been absent from recent media coverage, members say. Students would be given the option to live with same-sex roommates as sophomores, juniors, and seniors if the proposal is given the green-light by administrators.
Sarah Weiss, CC ’10 and CCSC vice president of policy, claims that the recent article published in the New York Post missed the mark on its analysis of the gender-neutral housing proposal. Weiss emphasizes the fact that the proposal is “about giving students the opportunity to live with whomever they feel comfortable. … without gender binaries of being male and female.” The proposal is meant to accommodate LGBT students, transgender students, and students in general, a central tenet that’s been conspicuously absent from recent reports on the proposed policy.
Sunday’s New York Post article makes much ado of college-aged couples sharing a dorm room, but Weiss notes, “LGBT, trans-, and students in general—none of those were talked about—it only talked about couples. This is a discussion of students feeling comfortable about who they live with.”
CCSC President Sue Yang, CC ’10 also lamented the fact that the aim of the resolution, outlined in the proposal itself and provided to the Post, was largely ignored. “[The article] didn’t address that we’re doing it because we’re in an age where the traditional viewpoint that students want to room with students of the same gender used to be the norm. But is that the case now? A growing number would say ‘No.’ They’re comfortable with living with another sex.”
Gender-neutral housing, a policy extant at other Ivy League universities like Princeton and Dartmouth, was proposed by students and fielded by student council. The proposal currently is in the hands of upper-level administrators Deans Kevin Shollenberger, Michele Moody-Adams, and Feniosky Pena-Mora. Though it’s well supported by the student body, whether or not the proposal will come to fruition is to be determined by the administration in the weeks to come.
The council also said they considered the experience an opportunity to learn how to handle the media, citing the importance of proceeding carefully when discussing policy decisions with media outlets. The council fears that because the resolution hasn’t passed yet, current coverage like the New York Post article could be used against the resolution when administrators deliberate it.
Weiss claims the quote from her printed in the New York Post was taken out of context. CCSC member Alex Frouman, CC’12, alleges that the author poorly paraphrased what he said and printed it as a direct quote.
3. CNN, December 10, 2009
1 Time Warner Center, New York, NY 10019
University considers 'gender-neutral' housing
By Yvonne Kalawur
New York (CNN) -- When Columbia University student Sean Udell Manning enters his senior year next fall, he wants to share a one-bedroom apartment with one of his closest friends.
His friend just happens to be female.
Manning's wish may become a reality if Columbia University becomes one of the latest universities to adopt co-ed rooming, which would allow students of opposite sexes to live together on campus, Columbia University spokesman Robert Hornsby told CNN.
If the proposal is approved by administrators, the Ivy League university will join an estimated 30 universities and colleges across the country that have already taken the plunge and offer "gender-neutral" housing, according to Jeffrey Chang, co-founder of The National Student Genderblind Campaign, a grassroots organization that helps students and college administrators develop gender-neutral housing policies.
"We have seen this tremendous increase among college institutions in the past two to three years moving toward gender-neutral housing," Chang said.
While gender-neutral housing may upset parents who consider sharing a room to mean sharing a bed, advocates say that allowing heterosexual couples to live together is not the real motive for gender-neutral housing.
"It's not intended to be a couples' housing proposal," said Sarah Weiss, a student government member who voted affirmatively for the Columbia University proposal. "It's really a proposal for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender to have the opportunity to live with a roommate they feel comfortable with."
The crux of the argument is that people should have the opportunity to live with whomever they want regardless of gender, Weiss said. And those students who identify themselves as being LGBT often feel safer living with someone of the opposite sex.
Columbia University student Manning, who identifies himself as gay, remembers being concerned as a freshman that his randomly-selected male roommate would not understand his lifestyle.
"I was really relieved I had such an accepting roommate," Manning said, who ended up rooming with a straight male. "But this is not common to people in the LGBT community."
In universities that have gender-neutral housing policies, no student is assigned to a roommate of the opposite sex without prior consent, according to representatives at several colleges.
While policies vary by school, at the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, in order to live in a co-ed living situation, both students must be at least 18 years old, have sophomore standing, and sign up in person, according to university spokesman Ron Ozio.
Not every college is jumping on board. Danny Armitage, assistant vice president for campus services at the University of Memphis, says the gender-neutral housing movement is not as prevalent at southern universities, where more traditional housing policies, such as single-sex dormitories and restricted visiting hours for members of the opposite sex, still exist.
"Our culture here is such that it still lends itself that people prefer single-sex housing," Armitage said.
Armitage said that the university surveys its students every three to four years about housing issues and has found that students, especially females, simply feel more comfortable and safe in a single-sex environment because they have more privacy.
Michelle Garcia, a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, who shared a dorm room with a male student last year, does not understand the fuss about gender-neutral housing. The roommates, who are friends but not romantically involved, slept in separate beds and respected each other's space when it came to getting dressed, she says.
"Quite frankly, you see more in college campus hallways with people walking in their bathrobe to the shower than we ever saw living with each other," Garcia said.
While her parents were initially concerned about the living situation, they got used to it over time and would often check in to make sure she was okay, "just like any parent would do with any roommate," Garcia said.
Weiss said couples should use caution if they are thinking of living together.
"We strongly advise same-sex or heterosexual couples [in romantic relationships] not to live together," she said.
Couples don't seem to be rushing to do so, Chang said. At universities that offer the option, usually less than 1 percent of students choose it, he said.
And if a couple does move in together and then break up, it's not that big a deal.
"There are always people who request roommate changes," University of Pennsylvania spokesman Ozio said. "That is not usual."
4. Inside Higher Ed, December 8, 2009
1320 18th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036
By Scott Jaschik
WASHINGTON -- Following years of conflicting lower court rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide one of the most contested legal questions in higher education today: whether public colleges can enforce anti-bias rules when religious student organizations seek recognition or funding.
Both sides in the case before the court argue that they are defending students from discrimination. "Often university officials don't like the religious groups and we see [colleges' anti-bias rules] as one more mechanism for keeping religious groups off campus," said Kim Colby, a lawyer for the Christian Legal Society, which wants the right to organize chapters at public law schools even if those law schools ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. The society excludes gay people -- and others who do not share its faith.
The Hastings College of Law of the University of California, like many public colleges and universities, has a policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation as a requirement for student organizations seeking recognition and funding -- and denied recognition to the society as a result. Ethan Schulman, a lawyer for Hastings, frames the case this way. "There's no question of the importance of the issue of whether public colleges have a constitutional obligation to subsidize discriminatory groups on campus," he said.
The question of whether and when the Supreme Court might decide the issue has been the subject of much speculation. The court tends to take courses when there are splits among appeals courts, and that is the case on this issue.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has backed Hastings and other public schools and colleges that have defended the enforcement of their anti-bias rules. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit backed the Christian Legal Society in a similar dispute at the Southern Illinois University law school. The Illinois ruling stressed the First Amendment rights of the Christian students to free association; the ruling on Hastings was only a few sentences long, but referenced another case that said that as long as anti-bias rules were devised and applied equally, they could be applied to the religious organizations at public institutions.
Despite the split between the appeals courts, some legal experts thought that it could be years before the Supreme Court took up the case. That's because the Supreme Court in June passed up a chance to review the case that was the basis of the Ninth Circuit's ruling in Hastings. The Supreme Court doesn't have to say why it rejects some cases or takes others, but in recent weeks, the exceptionally long time that the justices were taking to indicate their decision on whether to hear the Hastings appeal encouraged some of those wanting the Supreme Court to take the case.
The uncertainty has left some colleges changing their policies to avoid lawsuits, while others have stood their ground. While the Hastings and Southern Illinois cases have been based on law school student groups, other suits have been started by Christian fraternities. And while the legal issue before the Supreme Court relates to public colleges and universities, the ethical issues involved have been turning up at private institutions as well, with an intense debate taking place at Cornell University over the last year.
The Legal Issues
The center of the debate before the Supreme Court is the question of whether the Christian groups are suffering religious discrimination (as they say) or whether they are seeking special treatment (as Hastings says).
The Christian Legal Society argues that its First Amendment rights to religious freedom and free association can't coexist with requirements that they view as violating their basic beliefs. Colby, the lawyer for the society, said that the group expects its members to "conduct themselves in a manner that is Biblically correct" and that it is "common sense" that a religious group should be able to determine its own standards.
While critics of the society have noted that its members could still congregate on campuses without student funds or official recognition, Colby said that "it does matter whether you are recognized or not" and that the Supreme Court has backed that right. She noted a 1972 decision, Healy v. James, on the right of public college students to organize a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (against the wishes of university administrators) as evidence that the Supreme Court sees official recognition as a significant right.
Christian students "want to be treated just like other groups," she said, and that means forming groups of like-minded students. "That's why universities set up these programs in the first place. They are a way of helping students organize around viewpoints, a diversity of viewpoints." (Details of the argument can be found in the society's brief asking the Supreme Court to take the case.)
The Hastings argument, however, is that the Christian Legal Society is trying not to be treated like other student groups.
"The Supreme Court has been sympathetic to the idea that religious groups should have equal access, that they should be treated in the same manner as other groups," Schulman said. "What's different here is that the Christian Legal Society is seeking special rights for religious groups. It is asking the court to say that religious groups should be exempted from generally applicable non-discriminatory policies and that would be a very dangerous and troubling precedent." Schulman noted that no one has presented any evidence that the Christian Legal Society had to face additional rules or different rules than those imposed on other student groups because of its religious status.
Further, he questioned the idea that letting in a gay student or a non-believing student would destroy the integrity of the society. He said that the case followed a period in which the Hastings branch of the society didn't seek to kick out those who didn't share the group's beliefs and that it had an openly gay member, and non-Christian members, without any impact on the group's views. Schulman contrasted that experience -- in which students are welcome in all recognized groups -- with the "official imprimatur of discrimination" that he said the society is seeking to impose. (Details of the Hastings argument can be found in its brief asking the Supreme Court to let the lower court's decision stand.)
Robert M. O’Neil, a former president of the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin System who directs the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, said he was surprised that the Supreme Court took the case, given how recently it had turned back another opportunity to decide the issue.
While not predicting what the justices will decide, he noted that there could be middle ground found if the Supreme Court wants to respect both the "institutional interest in enforcing non-discrimination policy and the religious freedom and free association interests of these organizations."
One balancing act might involve public institutions keeping their anti-bias rules, but not applying them to the selection of officers of organizations, so that a Christian group could be assured that it would be led by members who share certain beliefs. Another approach -- for which O'Neil gave credit to one of his law students -- might have public colleges keep their policies and require all student organizations to acknowledge the policies and pledge commitment to them, but the institutions would not take actions against groups without a formal complaint.
The Supreme Court could of course decide to favor one side or another, O'Neil said, but he stressed that it was possible to envision compromise positions.
A challenge for Hastings and its supporters, O'Neil said, may be that there are not federal statutes and there are relatively few state laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. This "will make it very important for institutions to articulate clearly a rationale for including sexual orientation among forbidden types of discrimination."
O'Neil said that academic freedom issues may also be raised. He said that faculty groups may want to weigh in on behalf of the right of public colleges and universities to set their own anti-discrimination policies and to enforce them. The American Association of University Professors has yet to weigh in on the case.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education plans to file a brief in the case, backing the Christian Legal Society, on the grounds that free association rights are being endangered by the way Hastings and other public universities have enforced anti-bias rules.
Debate at Cornell
One reality of litigation involving college students is that the students initially involved may be long gone before a case is resolved. The Christian Legal Society first sued Hastings in 2004. But the issues raised continue to turn up -- and they also show that the principles raised on both sides aren't hypothetical (which many people assume to be the case, since it may be hard to imagine why students would seek to join a group that wants to discriminate against them).
Consider the controversy over the last year at Cornell University (which, while it has four units of the State University of New York, is a private university and not covered legally in the same way Hastings is).
Christopher Donohoe had been involved in the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship from the time he was a freshman, and was elected a vice president during his junior year. When he returned as a senior in the fall of 2008, he told the leaders of the organization that he was coming out as gay -- and he lost his post as a result. After a few months, he went public with his story, setting off a series of discussions over whether Chi Alpha should be recognized and receive student funds.
A student government body initially tried to freeze funding for Chi Alpha, but that effort failed when it was pointed out that the organization wasn't violating any rules governing student organizations. That led to proposals to amend the Campus Code to bar funding for groups that discriminate in ways that Cornell bars generally (including sexual orientation). Proponents of the change were clear that they wanted a tool to prevent funding from going to groups like Chi Alpha.
FIRE weighed in on Chi Alpha's behalf, writing to David Skorton, Cornell's president, arguing that the Christian group should not be punished financially for its actions against Donohoe. "An expressive organization, whether it is religious, political, or something else, must be allowed to limit its leadership to people who share the group's beliefs," said the FIRE letter. "The College Democrats must not be forced to maintain a leader who no longer is a Democrat or rejects various Democratic political beliefs, a Muslim group must not be forced to maintain a leader who no longer believes in tenets of Islam that the group deems important, and a Christian group must not be forced to maintain a leader who no longer agrees with the specific Christian doctrine of the group."
Skorton has in fact backed the right of free association, telling student government leaders that if they want to bar student organizations from discrimination, they should add a footnote to the policy stating that it does not limit "free speech, freedom of association and religious freedom." The student government is now holding off on imposing the proposed rules that could deny funds to Chi Alpha, a move that pleases FIRE and dismays The Cornell Daily Sun, the student newspaper, which in an editorial denounced the shift.
Donohoe, who graduated this year and is now teaching English as a second language in the Bronx through Teach for America, said he believed in free expression for Chi Alpha, but that when a student group strips someone of a position because he is gay, there are multiple issues at stake. "Chi Alpha is entitled to have its religious beliefs and those beliefs should not be censored," he said. "But when a group takes action against a student on the basis of a protected status, that's when I think you have crossed the line."
He added: "I was removed from a position because of my sexual orientation. If this had been any other status, if this had been race, if a black person had been removed for being black, I wouldn't be having this conversation. Any action taken against a student based on protected status should be wrong.... I understand that this is a very complicated issue because it is so important that the university protect all students, including their freedom of expression. But a student group should not be allowed to take action against someone because of their protected class status. If you are a member of the LGBT community, you are not protected, and that's really, really sad."
5. The New York Times, December 8, 2009
620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018
Rights and Religion Clash in Court
By Adam Liptak
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from a Christian student group that had been denied recognition by a public law school in California for excluding homosexuals and nonbelievers. The case pits anti-discrimination principles against religious freedom.
The group, the Christian Legal Society, says it welcomes all students to participate in its activities. But it does not allow students to become voting members or to assume leadership positions unless they affirm what the group calls orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” Such a lifestyle, the group says, includes “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.”
The law school, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, part of the University of California, allows some 60 recognized student groups to use meeting space, bulletin boards and the like so long as they agree to a policy that forbids discrimination on various grounds, including religion and sexual orientation. The school withdrew recognition from the Christian group after it refused to comply with the policy.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled in favor of Hastings in March.
“Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups — all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group,” a three-judge panel of the court said in a brief unsigned decision. “The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.”
Three years earlier, the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, ruled to the contrary in a case involving a different chapter of the same group at an Illinois law school.
“It would be very difficult for C.L.S. to sincerely and effectively convey a message of disapproval of certain types of conduct if, at the same time, it must accept members who engage in that conduct,” Judge Diane S. Sykes wrote for the majority of a divided three-judge panel. “C.L.S.’s beliefs about sexual morality are among its defining values; forcing it to accept as members those who engage in or approve of homosexual conduct would cause the group as it currently identifies itself to cease to exist.”
Judge Diane P. Wood, who was on many short lists for the most recent Supreme Court vacancy, dissented, saying she would have struck the balance in favor of anti-discrimination principles. “Given that universities have a compelling interest in obtaining diverse student bodies,” Judge Wood wrote, “requiring a university to include exclusionary groups might undermine their ability to attain such diversity.”
The question of how to reconcile anti-discrimination principles with religious freedom in the context of public higher education “is a recurring and pervasive national problem,” the student group told the justices in a brief urging them to hear the case, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, 08-1371.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which had filed a brief supporting the law school in the Ninth Circuit, issued a statement on Monday urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the law school.
“Groups that wish to engage in discrimination should not expect public subsidies,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the organization’s executive director.
6. The Badger Herald, December 6, 2009
326 W. Gorham St., Madison, WI 53703-2017
LGBT rights ralliers march to Capitol
By Jennifer Zettel
Amid shouts of “Hey Obama, let momma marry momma,” a crowd of more than 200 community members marched to the Capitol Saturday to fight for equal rights in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
According to Char Hanson, march organizer and member of the Madison College Pride Alliance and OutReach, the march was a continuation of the one that took place in Washington, D.C., in October.
The main issues the organizers advocated for were overturning bans on same-sex marriage and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in the United States Armed Forces, in addition to equal protection of civil rights and anti-discrimination rights for members of the LGBT community.
As the marchers progressed up State Street, many bystanders on the sidewalks displayed their support of the group with smiles, shouts and thumbs up.
On the steps immediately in front of the Capitol, Hanson was one of the main speakers, emphasizing the necessity for equal rights from the government to the LGBT community.
“Today I am issuing a challenge to our federal and our state governments to pass the laws in a non-arguable writing, to give us the equal rights that we have been fighting for,” Hanson said.
She also stressed the importance of presenting a unified front and of not giving up the battle for rights every person is guaranteed.
“We as a unified community must never stop until we have the equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that every citizen of the United States of America is promised,” Hanson said.
Hanson said those involved with the event want to keep the issues in the public eye and gain the attention of lawmakers, both in Wisconsin and at the federal level.
In addition, Hanson said the inequalities as deny members of the LGBT community basic human rights.
“The last time I checked, it’s not about skin color anymore,” Hanson said. “It’s about who we love, what we like, the way we express our own gender. … That is what is holding us back from being treated as human beings.”
Many of those in attendance agreed with Hanson, including University of Wisconsin freshman Brittany Simler. She said members of the LGBT community deserve equal rights because they cannot change who they are — it is part of their identity.
“I feel like [being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender] is something that people don’t choose … it’s who they are, so they should be protected,” Simler said.
Many groups were involved in the march including the International Socialist Organization, the UW chapter of LGBTI Equality Now!, Madison Area Transgender Association and groups from UW-Whitewater, among others.
Benjamin Daniels, a UW senior and member of ISO, said the march was important because it is essential that every individual have their rights ensured.
“Civil rights shouldn’t come for a vote,” Daniels said. “[They] should be guaranteed and protected on a federal level.”
7. ABC News, December 8, 2009
7 West 66th Street, New York, NY 10023
Gay Students Wanting to Be Seen
By Xorje Olivares
For many teens, the adolescent experience is defined by a desire for acceptance among peers. But for gay and lesbian students, in schools across the country, there's another issue at stake. It's the fight to be represented publicly in high school and college rites of passage: the yearbook, the big school dance, the homecoming court.
In what some gay-rights advocacy organizations consider a setback in the struggle for equality, students at the University of North Texas, in Denton, recently voted against allowing same-sex and gender-neutral couples to run for homecoming court.
"You know it's unfortunate any time schools put forth policy that restricts the expression of young people, especially when students are behind it," said Daryl Presgraves, public relations manager for the New York City-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "It's extremely frustrating because you want to be able to say that every student has the same opportunity."
It all started when a male student indicated he was interested in running with another male for the court, Christopher Passafiume, student senator and member of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Denton (GLAD), told ABC News on Campus. Passafiume said he informed the student that the school's bylaws prohibited his candidacy.
Despite one's gender identification, he said, students must file with a partner of the opposite sex, with males running for king and females campaigning for queen.
So Passafiume, 20, introduced a bill in the student senate that would have changed the bylaws. But it was defeated when brought to a vote Sept. 29.
Beforehand, he said, many unhappy parents, alumni and donors called and wrote the student government association threatening to remove their children from the university and to discontinue school donations if the legislation passed.
Dozens of students protested the bill's defeat by disrupting a subsequent senate meeting Oct. 14, even threatening to remove senators who voted against the proposed legislation. Carrying rainbow flags and yelling for "equal rights," members of the local LGBT community seemed to surprise the senate members, recalled North Texas photojournalism senior Charlie McRae, 24, who documented the protest.
After the demonstrators were repeatedly told to remain silent, two police officers eventually asked them to leave.
"It was kind of a heated moment," McRae said. "They marched back downstairs and they continued for a bit in front of the building."
Majority Decides 'Fate of the Minority'
It was then that the student government association decided to have a campus-wide referendum on the matter, of which only 13.5 percent of the student body (about 4,860 students out of 36,000) participated.
"The issue should not have gone as far as to have been put up to a student vote," Passafiume said. "It is unethical to let the majority decide the fate of the minority."
Yet, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has faced a number of other obstacles with regard to school visibility elsewhere in the nation, as evidenced by events this year.
The problem, however, is not just reserved to college campuses. With more and more students coming out at an early age, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, issues concerning visibility have surfaced during the high school years.
"This isn't a shock to me," said Chris Hampton, public education associate for the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project, when asked about LGBT students confronting problems at school.
"This happens all the time. But many students aren't aware of what their rights are, so they don't question it. They don't contact us so we don't know about them."
In October, Cynthia Stewart, a student at Tharptown High School in Franklin County, Ala., said she was denied the opportunity to bring her girlfriend to the prom she was helping to coordinate for next year.
After the school board refused to overturn the decision, Stewart was one of the few who contacted a civil rights attorney who put them in touch with the ACLU. Hampton said Stewart, 17, mentioned that some teachers had said they would cancel the dance if she chose to bring her date. But on the day the ACLU had planned to send the school a formal letter addressing the issue, Stewart told Hampton she had heard the prom wouldn't be canceled after all. Regardless, the ACLU decided to send a letter to the school. After receiving the letter the school confirmed Stewart would be able to attend, with her girlfriend as her date.
"With Cynthia, we just had her tell her story," Hampton said, adding that, in doing so, they hoped to increase public awareness about LGBT discrimination.
But because Stewart's girlfriend was from outside the district, assistant superintendent Donald Borden said her date would still need to go through the screening process for all out-of-district dates who attend such school functions.
"The schools handle their own problems, we don't have district rules," Borden told ABC News on Campus. "We didn't make any decision until after [Stewart] contacted her lawyer and then we just [met] with the principal."
Borden said he believed Tharptown High School Principal Gary Odom initially denied Stewart from attending the prom because of possible pressures from the community. Repeated calls made to Odom were not returned.
An 'Avalanche of Equality'?
Whatever the principal's motivation, it appears unlikely that such actions will discourage teens from following their hearts. "What we know is that younger people are more accepting in ways," Presgraves of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network said. "But, I think society as a whole has a long way to go. We are going to see a slow trickle until we see an avalanche of equality."
In August, school officials in Wesson, Miss., alerted openly gay student Ceara Sturgis, 17, that she would not be included in her high school yearbook after she chose to wear a tuxedo for her senior portrait. A district employee said she was unaware whether a decision had been reached regarding the situation.
"I think, to some extent, we're talking about gender identity and that's a more important concept," said Randall Terrell, political director of LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas.
Students who don't conform to gender stereotypes, such as women who chose to wear a tuxedo, are wrongly subjected to discrimination, he added.
Also, this spring, student Brittany Crowell of Jim Hill High School in Jackson, Miss., took a school flier to the local ACLU office where she worked part-time. The flier, which was promoting the school's prom, said students were not allowed to take same-sex dates to the dance.
The organization eventually wrote the school and said they were violating students' rights, citing the Fricke v. Lynch case. The 1980 decision, which was argued before the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, upheld the right of gay students to take a same-sex date to a school dance.
Crowell told ABC News on Campus that a week after the ACLU brought the matter to the school's attention, school officials removed the stipulation and posted a revised announcement around campus.
"You can generally say that schools aren't ready," Presgraves said. "There are some that are taking the necessary steps but it depends on where [students] live to determine what they're getting."
But there have been some royal endings, most notably at the collegiate level.
In late October, 21-year-old Jessee Vasold, a "gender-queer" student at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., who doesn't identify as either male or female, was crowned the school's first transgender homecoming queen.
And George Mason University student Ryan Allen experienced a victory of his own in February when he was elected homecoming queen. His drag queen persona, "Reann Ballslee," won by a popular vote.
Allen, 23, who goes only by Ballslee when he is performing, said his identity was not much of an issue for most of the student body.
"Having the title of 'Ms. Mason 2009' has been fun," said Allen, who graduated from the university in August. "I know that because of my participation and winning of the pageant, I was able to represent people who never felt represented by the blonde Barbie sorority girls and uber-macho males."
Male and Female Representation
Allen said that since the coronation, he has received e-mail from members of the LGBT community thanking him for serving as an inspiration. When asked about the vote at the University of North Texas, Allen said it reinforces the notion that these individuals are second-class citizens.
"The thing about members of the LGBT community being involved in homecoming," Allen said, "is that it shows that everyone, no matter what group or identity they have, is a part of the bigger university community."
Diedrick Brackens, president of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Denton, said he had an inclination the measure wouldn't pass but was still surprised that 42 percent of the 13.5 percent of students who voted were willing to give same-sex and gender-neutral couples the opportunity to run for next year's court.
Because of the election, however, the university's student senate cannot introduce legislation that would challenge the results until after next year's homecoming proceedings.
"Let's take a male couple running for king and queen," Terrell of Equality Texas said. "You're not dealing with sexual orientation, the vote seems to be one about gender-bending roles. I agree, it is just a popularity contest but why rule that kids can't run?"
Before the special election, Dakota Carter, North Texas' student body president, said, "The ultimate issue isn't that we told gay students they couldn't run, they have every right to run. It's just that we're trying to recognize male and female representation."
Carter, 21, who is openly gay himself, said both the university and its student government remained neutral throughout the entire process, only encouraging students to voice their opinions.
"It's a student decision as to whether or not to change the composition of the homecoming court," said Deborah Leliaert, the school's vice president for university relations.
Despite the particular decision, Brackens, the president of GLAD, said the overall experience has been somewhat beneficial to his group's cause, and has served as a much-needed conversation.
"It gave me and other members [of his organization] a chance to plug our group and to tell people what we've been about," Brackens said. "Any visibility, usually, in our minds is a good thing."
ABCNews.com contributor Xorje Olivares is a member of the University of Texas ABC News on Campus bureau in Austin.
8. The Washington Post, December 11, 2009
1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071
Gay group carves out niche at Catholic University
By Jenna Johnson
Every Wednesday morning, 150 officials at Catholic University receive an e-mail about a gay student's struggles on campus.
There's a graduate student who doesn't mention her girlfriend to classmates or professors for fear of being lectured. An undergraduate who held her girlfriend's hand and was called an ugly name. Another student learned his roommate's mother tried to have her son reassigned when she learned he was gay.
Every Wednesday night, more than three dozen students gather to discuss what Catholic can do to welcome, affirm and protect its gay students, staff members and others.
So far, the administration has not been receptive to the group's Wednesday efforts. This summer they rejected an application from the group, CUAllies, to be an official student club. Doing so would have led to supporting an advocacy group for positions contrary to church teachings, Catholic spokesman Victor Nakas said in a statement.
"What else could be their purpose?" Nakas said.
Additionally, he said all students already have access to support services, such as the health center, counseling, public safety and campus ministry.
Still, CUAllies managed to build a presence and a member list this fall.
Although only approved student organizations can reserve space for meetings or events, all students have the right to gather informally on campus. Although only student organizations can advertise their meetings and events on campus bulletin boards, any student can tape a poster to his or her own door in the dorms or wear the group's signature blue T-shirts.
"We might not be an official group, but we're winning," said Robby Diesu, a senior political theory major from New York who is a founder of the group. "We have our own community. . . . It's empowering."
But the group has a self-imposed list of topics that are off-limits: pre-marital sex, gay sex, birth control, gay marriage and behavior not permitted by the Catholic church.
Despite the university's refusal to sanction the group, the students say they want to respect the campus's conservative nature and rules. Instead, they focus on helping gay students who are trying to navigate campus and educating the rest of the student body about gay issues.
"Everything that we are doing, it's Catholic, it's what the church is about," said David Freerksen, a junior economics major from Delaware who came out in middle school and converted to Catholicism in high school because of the religion's emphasis on community service.
For decades, public and private universities have grappled with how to support gay students and protect them from verbal or physical attacks. Religious schools also have the challenge of upholding church teachings, such as the Catholic stance that it is not sinful to be attracted to someone of the same sex but it is sinful to act on such desires.
This delicate balance often puts gay students in a "conflicted state of acceptance," said Shane L. Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national organization that helps colleges assess their gay friendliness. "The church wants to love the person and hate the sin. But what does that really mean?"
So visible support for gay students -- such as a resource center, rainbow stickers, club tables and awareness weeks -- is especially important at religious schools, he said. But such actions do not change campus attitudes overnight, he said.
Today, about 100 of the more than 220 Catholic colleges in the U.S. have a club dedicated to gay students, according to several gay rights advocacy groups. A few schools have gone further: The country's largest Catholic university, DePaul University in Chicago, started a LGBTQ Studies program (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer) in 2005. In the mid-1990s, the University of Notre Dame started the Core Council for Gay and Lesbian Students, which advises administrators. Georgetown University has had an official group for gay students since the 1980s and last fall it opened a resource center for gay students, the first of its kind at a U.S. Jesuit university.
The Rev. Kevin O'Brien, Georgetown's executive director of campus ministry, said if gay students are not supported by their professors, residence hall advisers, mentors, coaches and others, there is a risk they will engage in risky behaviors, commit suicide, drop out of school or leave the church.
"That's exactly the type of stuff any type of religion would want to avoid," he said. "The point is, we're trying to care for our students: mind, body and spirit."
Catholic University used to have a gay-straight alliance, the Organization for Lesbian and Gay Student Rights, which was formed in 1979 and was officially recognized as a student organization in 1988. The group's original constitution stated that it will not permit "any ambiguous use of the University's name to imply that the University approves of homosexual lifestyles as morally neutral, of homosexual activity, or of homosexual behavior."
The group was forced to dissolve several years ago because it became an advocacy group, Nakas said.
"The university has chosen not to go down that path again," he said, adding that the university would not comment on what other institutions choose to do.
The campus's conservative policies and formerly disconnected gay community created an environment where gay students didn't know who they could trust or where they could go for help, and there was a general lack of understanding among the student body, CUAllies members said.
Being denied campus recognition has revealed to students which administrators and faculty members support them. One professor purchased the group Web domain, and about 30 faculty members have signed a petition in favor of the group.
"There are pockets of acceptance and pockets of tolerance," said Lauren Crook, a senior sociology major from Florida. But it's not those pockets that CUAllies are trying to reach and educate, she said: "It's the rest of the university, the 3,000 other people on campus. That's our goal."
The idea for CUAllies arose this spring after the campus newspaper published a student column that criticized actor Sean Penn for using his Oscar win for the movie "Milk" as a platform for gay rights advocacy. A few gay students wrote letters to the editor and then met each other and learned they faced similar problems.
The newspaper then published an editorial cartoon showing the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and a sign showing symbols for gays and lesbians and an arrow pointing to Catholic's campus. The headline read: "No longer underground."
At least 2,000 copies of that paper were taken from the paper's distribution sites and thrown into recycling bins. Several copies of the paper were torn up outside the newspaper office and a copy of the cartoon was ripped out of the paper and taped to the wall.
Meanwhile, CUAllies began to take form. Organizers collected testimony from gay students and alumni, which they began to e-mail to administrators in early September.
The first e-mail was from a 2008 alum who realized he was gay in fourth grade, founded a gay-straight alliance at his high school and stunned his friends when he decided to attend Catholic. He was convinced it was an accepting place, but found instead "it was a culture shock." Someone wrote an anti-gay slur on his dorm door and he overheard students talking derogatively about him. "I felt like I had nowhere to turn."
That e-mail, like all of the e-mails since, ends with a quote from a 1997 pastoral message U.S. bishops wrote to the parents of gay children: "All homosexual persons have a right to be welcomed into the community."
9. The Washington Post, December 11, 2009
1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071
Georgetown U. tries to be Catholic and gay-friendly
By Jenna Johnson
Sivagami "Shiva" Subbaraman was leading a workshop about making college campuses more gay-friendly in February 2008 when a Georgetown University student burst into the room with news: The university president had agreed to open a resource center for gay students and hire a full-time director to run it.
Everyone in the room laughed.
"Not Georgetown," Subbaraman recalls saying, astonished that a university founded by Jesuits was supporting so publicly a community that long has felt shunned by the Catholic Church. "You must mean at GW [George Washington University]."
But less than two months later, Subbaraman interviewed to be that director. She left her job at the University of Maryland's Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equity and, last August, helped open the LGBTQ Resource Center, the first of its kind at a Jesuit university in the United States. (At Georgetown, LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning.)
"This is the biggest unmapped frontier in faith," said Subbaraman, a lesbian who grew up in a Hindu family in India and attended a Catholic high school and college.
The center has two full-time staff members, a rarity at college resource centers, who provide training sessions and workshops for faculty members and student leaders. They also help students find services on campus and plan events such as Coming Out Week festivities in October and Lavender Graduation, an additional graduation ceremony for gay students.
Plus, the center is a regular hangout spot for many students and a place they can go to talk about problems they have encountered. On Monday nights, students gather for an LGBTQ prayer group.
Before the center opened, the gay community at Georgetown was disjointed, said Carlos León-Ojeda, a Georgetown senior and co-chair of the student organization GUPride. "There were groups of friends, but any community was very small."
The center was the university's response to two reported anti-gay attacks on students near campus in fall 2007. In one of the two cases, a sophomore was charged with assaulting a fellow student. Prosecutors later dropped the case, citing a lack of evidence, but the event generated publicity and student protests.
Within weeks, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia organized work groups to study how hate crimes are reported, what additional resources gay students needed and how the entire campus was educated on including and understanding gay students.
Before doing so, DeGioia met with church leaders to explain what he wanted to do and how his plan would follow church teachings and not advocate for positions contrary to those of the church.
"At a Catholic and Jesuit university, we most certainly can 'advocate' for LGBTQ students. We can and must advocate for respect, inclusion, understanding, safety, mentoring, dignity, growth and equal opportunity. We can and must advocate for freedom from prejudice, exclusion, discrimination, and homophobia," DeGioia said during a meeting with students and others in October 2007, according to a copy of his remarks.
At Georgetown, students are encouraged to question their faith, learn about other religions and discuss sensitive topics such as the culture of casual sex on college campuses, said the Rev. Kevin O'Brien, executive director of campus ministry. Such discussions are integral to the university's mission and do not conflict with its Catholic identity, he said.
"We don't have a political agenda. We don't have a lifestyle agenda. We're concerned about helping our young people," he said. "It's something that we're really proud of."
Gay students at Georgetown first organized in the 1970s, just after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders. The students repeatedly petitioned the university for recognition and resources. They were denied over and over.
In the 1980s two groups representing gay undergraduates and law students sued Georgetown under the D.C. Human Rights Act, which says it is illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. In 1987, an appeals court decided that although the university is not required to endorse the group, it cannot deny students access to resources and benefits enjoyed by other campus clubs. Today that group is called GUPride.
In 2002, students again petitioned the administration, this time for a resource center. They were turned down, but as a compromise, in 2004, the university dedicated a part-time employee to advise gay student on what resources were available on campus.
The center was a major victory, said Zack Pesavento, who graduated from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in 2008 and was involved with the petition. The center indicates to students that they are welcome on campus, and it helps them figure out who they are, a process that can be made more confusing by religion, he said.
"I have my gay identity and my Catholic identity, and these are two things that are very important to me. But they grew very separately," said Pesavento, now a communications consultant. "I needed to live and be as one integrated person."
But opening the center has not solved all of Georgetown's anti-gay problems. In October, a female student wearing a gay rights T-shirt was attacked by two men near campus and called names. On Halloween night, a male student was sent to the hospital after a man called him an anti-gay slur and beat him in a neighborhood near campus. About the same time, a note was posted on the door of the resource center that called Subbaraman a name and told her to leave campus.
"It takes a long time to change the culture of a campus," Subbaraman said. "I don't want just the center to be a safe space. All of campus should be a safe space."
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