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An unlikely revolution is happening at Christian universities

More than half have enacted LGBTQ non-discrimination policies

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Recent headlines have been filled with messages of doom and gloom for LGBTQ people. From bans on transgender women competing in sports to “don’t say gay” laws, it seems evident that conservative Republicans are freshly committed to rolling back the rights of LGBTQ people across the United States.

Yet, despite such recent setbacks, a student-led movement for LGBTQ inclusion is gaining ground in what would seem to be one of the unlikeliest settings — Christian colleges and universities.

Over the past few years, I’ve collected extensive data on U.S. Christian colleges and universities’ policies toward LGBTQ students. In one study, I found that 55% of all Christian colleges and universities in the United States have nondiscrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation. In another recent study, I found that nearly half of all Christian colleges and universities are home to officially recognized LGBTQ student groups. 

Even some of the most conservative Christian colleges and universities have changed their approach to LGBTQ students. When analyzing data collected in 2013, I found that nearly one-third of all Christian colleges and universities had adopted bans on so-called “homosexual acts” or “homosexual behavior” in their student handbooks. Yet, when reviewing Christian colleges and universities’ handbooks again over the past year, I found that under one-fourth of Christian colleges and universities had such discriminatory bans. 

Why are some Christian colleges and universities becoming more accommodating—and even welcoming—to LGBTQ students?

There are several major reasons, but one of the most important is that several Christian denominations already embrace their LGBTQ members. Denominations such as the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyterian Church USA, for example, allow ministers to officiate same-sex weddings. An increasing number of nondenominational churches also affirm LGBTQ people. Those Christian colleges and universities that are already associated with affirming denominations are certainly among the most likely to affirm their LGBTQ students. 

Another reason that many Christian colleges and universities are becoming welcoming toward LGBTQ students is that they do not necessarily believe their primary mission is to hold all students to the specific religious tenets of their associated denomination. Rather, they see their primary mission as providing an important service (education) to the broader society. Just as Christian hospitals do not refuse to provide medical treatment to people who are not members of their associated denominations, many Christian colleges and universities have chosen not to deny people an education simply because certain people are not members of their associated denominations. 

A rising number of Christian colleges and universities also recognize the harms that occur when people are discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A recent survey by Religious Exemption Accountability Project shows that 12% of all Christian college and university students self-identify as LGBTQ. Because studies show that LGBTQ people in non-affirming Christian colleges and universities report greater rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, many Christian schools understand they would be harming a significant number of their students if they continued to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

And still other schools are simply concerned with their bottom lines. The United States is projected to go over a “demographic cliff” in 2025, at which time the number of 18-year-olds nationwide will drop dramatically. Some reports say that one-third of all private colleges and universities nationwide will face major financial crises over the next decade, causing them to close or pursue mergers. Many Christian colleges and universities recognize that adopting discriminatory policies toward LGBTQ students would alienate significant portions of their potential student body.

Certainly, despite these encouraging trends, those who are committed to LGBTQ rights should not be complacent. Many schools have still been slow to extend nondiscrimination protections and housing accommodations to trans students. And the Religious Exemption Accountability Project estimates that as many as 100,000 LGBTQ students are currently enrolled at Christian colleges and universities that still refuse to affirm the dignity and rights of LGBTQ people. That organization recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, challenging the federal government’s policy of providing loans even to Christian colleges and universities that otherwise violate Title IX protections for LGBTQ students.

It is likely the case that some Christian colleges and universities will not change their policies toward LGBTQ rights unless they are legally required to do so. Still, at Christian colleges and universities across the United States, LGBTQ students are not waiting around. LGBTQ students are actively mobilizing to bring about inclusive policies at their schools, and at a surprising number of schools, they are succeeding.

Jonathan S. Coley is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Oklahoma State University and a Public Fellow at the Public Religion Research Institute.

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Don’t sever corporate ties at Pride celebrations

We need our business allies in face of growing political attacks

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Amazon had a contingent in the 2022 Capital Pride Parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

As Pride 2022 winds down in Washington, D.C., New York City, San Francisco, Wilton Manors and other parts of the country, I am compelled to address the issue of corporate support in Pride celebrations. As a leader in and a senior member of the LGBTQ+ community, I remember clearly the time when being out as a gay person in the workplace could cost one their employment. Many of my generation lived in fear of being outed at their jobs. It was a terrible place to be and contributed detrimentally to one’s mental and physical well being; living in fear of termination of your career was no picnic.

There is a segment in today’s LGBTQ+ community that voice their opposition to the inclusion of a corporate presence in Pride celebrations. Many of these voices are from a generation that have not experienced the trauma of being forced to live in the “corporate closet” in fear of retaliation from their employers. Their lived experience is very different from my generation’s experience. The past actions of employers warranted boycotts and other drastic responses by our community. These aggressive stances brought about today’s corporate changes that welcome, embrace and celebrate the diversity of our community and enhance the workplace. These changes are due to the contributions and sacrifices of the current senior LGBTQ+ community. We should not sever corporate ties with Pride celebrations.

In the current political climate, there’s a disturbing trend by elected officials and legislatures passing legislation and policies that target corporate support of LGBTQ+ rights and issues. 

One example is Florida’s legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bullying tactics toward Disney and other corporations. The governor’s bellicose actions toward corporate support of our LGBTQ+ community is sufficient proof that our community should be strengthening our bonds with the corporate community and not severing them by excluding their participation and presence at Pride parades and festivals. 

Understanding the evolution of LGBTQ+ rights over the past decades, our younger generation can continue to build and contribute (as they already are) to the expansion of LGBTQ+ rights in our society. Severing corporate ties to our community is not the appropriate direction to take and will not be helpful battling hateful and polarizing actions directed against our community.

John E. Lazar has held leadership roles in Democratic and LGBTQ+ organizations in Florida, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and D.C. including the elected position in D.C. as Ward 2 Committeeman to the Democratic State Party.

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As governor, I will fight to make Maryland an inclusive state

LGBTQ+ residents deserve prosperous, affirming lives

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John King (Photo courtesy of the John King Campaign)

LGBTQ+ people of all ages deserve to live safe, prosperous, and affirming lives — but right now, across the country, they are facing discriminatory policies, bigoted rhetoric, and escalating violence. So why did it take until Pride month for even one of my major competitors for governor in the Maryland Democratic primary to post anything on their campaign websites about the issues facing LGBTQ+ folks? 

True allies in government must stand up for the LGBTQ+ community while GOP lawmakers, governors, and state attorneys general continue to push regressive and discriminatory policies. My administration will be committed to ensuring that all LGBTQ+ people, especially LGBTQ+ people of color, have the protections and support they need in Maryland. 

Having worked to put civil rights protections in place for transgender students as U.S. Secretary of Education, I know how important it is to not just have good policy, but follow it up with good implementation. I’m running for governor because I want to lead Maryland forward, not take it backward. As the GOP targets LGBTQ+ people and their families, I will work hard to make Maryland a safe state for everyone. There is simply too much at stake to not act.

Legislators in 28 states introduced more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ laws this year alone. Ohio’s statehouse passed legislation that would subject student athletes whose genders are challenged by others to invasive gender-confirmation procedures. Fifteen states have bans on health care for trans youth or are considering them, while Missouri lawmakers considered banning hormone therapy for anyone under 25. The Texas governor and attorney general are fighting in court to continue investigations of families of transgender children, and Florida is considering even investigating parents who bring their kids to family-friendly drag shows.

Rather than supporting their LGBTQ+ students, school boards controlled by the far right are banning library books and Pride flags, while state legislatures controlled by the far right are effectively prohibiting classroom discussion about anything LGBTQ+ related. Teachers have already been fired for displaying Pride flags; others have resigned because they do not feel welcome at their schools. In Maryland’s Carroll County, the school board voted earlier this month to ban Pride flags on school grounds.

Threats of violence and hateful rhetoric against LGBTQ+ Americans have significantly increased in recent years — just a few weeks ago, 31 members of a white supremacist group were arrested on their way to start a riot at a Pride event in Idaho, and a house fire in Baltimore started by a burning Pride flag is being investigated as a hate crime. 

Maryland has made many strides in the last few years, like banning the panic defense and making mental health care more accessible to young LGBTQ+ people. But Maryland has also failed LGBTQ+ Marylanders in many ways. As governor, I’d like to improve our state’s track record. 

We must do more to make Maryland a safe place for transgender people and their families. As other states continue to pass discriminatory legislation, we must in turn make Maryland a safe haven for transgender people seeking refuge, and we must strengthen the LGBTQ+ protections we already have. 

As governor, I will protect and expand access to gender-affirming health care, pass the Trans Health Equity Act, work to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to LGBTQ+ Marylanders, and ensure that providers are properly trained to give the level of competent care that all LGBTQ+ people deserve. 

In our public schools, I will ensure that LGBTQ+ students have a safe place to learn and are protected by written anti-discrimination policies and an internal complaint process. I’ll fight for an inclusive curriculum that teaches and celebrates LGBTQ+ stories at all grade levels.

As governor, I’ll work with community members and organizations to invest in violence prevention and intervention programs focused on protecting LGBTQ+ people, especially trans women of color. I’ll protect our LGBTQ+ seniors by pursuing specific anti-discrimination policies for seniors in long-term care facilities. And I’ll invest in LGBTQ-owned businesses to promote economic opportunity for all LGBTQ+ Marylanders.

My administration will also build on reforms to make our legal system both easier to navigate and more inclusive for LGBTQ+ people, like making it easier to change your name and gender marker on marriage licenses and your child’s birth certificate. It’s also time to end the criminalization of HIV by repealing outdated laws and changing discriminatory prosecutorial practices. 

This Pride month and beyond, LGBTQ+ Americans need more than empty allyship from politicians, governments, and corporations — they need someone who will stand with them and provide tangible support. I’m running for governor to be a real defender, ally, and advocate for LGBTQ+ Marylanders, and to make our state a safe place for all Americans to live. 

John King is a former U.S. Secretary of Education and a Maryland gubernatorial candidate.

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Opinions

Roe ruling returns us to the discriminatory 1950s

For the first time, I no longer think of our nation as a democracy

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A scene from 'Father Knows Best' aired on Oct. 3, 1954. (Screen capture via YouTube)

(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part column.)

I love looking at photos of my grandmother in the 1950s, going out to lunch with her friends, wearing hats with combs, white gloves in hand.

The 1950s had it all over us in style, I think. 

Until, I remember:

• Black people who were discriminated against had little or no legal recourse;

• Most women couldn’t get a charge card, let alone buy a home, unless their husbands got it for them;

• If you were queer, you could be arrested for dancing with someone of the same-sex at a gay bar, or lose your job because of your sexuality.

Those memories erase my 1950s nostalgia. I’ll enjoy family pictures from that era but I don’t want to return to the 1950s.

Unfortunately, that’s what the Supreme Court has done. The court’s overthrow of Roe v. Wade (in its 6-3 ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) thrusts us back to an era that threatens to be as repressive as the 1950s.

The court’s reversal of the landmark Roe v. Wade wasn’t surprising. 

Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign made it clear: If elected he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would likely rule to overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump isn’t known for his truth-telling or promise-keeping. But in this critical matter, he wasn’t lying. He kept his word.

But the court’s ending nearly 50 years of a fundamental right is still gut-wrenching.

We’ve known that America, though a democracy, has long had a record of denying rights and dignity to all of its citizens.

Black people were enslaved. For a good part of our history only white men could vote. Japanese people were put in concentration camps during World War II.  To avoid being scorned by their families, most queer people had to be closeted.

Yet until the court overturned Roe v. Wade, no civil right had been taken away.

Now, for the first time, I no longer think of our nation as a democracy.

As I’m writing, at least 13 states have laws that will immediately or in a short time ban abortions. States where abortion remains illegal are looking to find ways to prosecute out-of-state clinics and doctors who perform abortions.

In Texas, citizens are legally permitted to sue anyone (from an Uber driver to a clergy person to a doctor or clinic) who performs an abortion or helps anyone to obtain an abortion.

Putting reproductive freedom into the quagmire of state legislatures isn’t enough for many Republicans and members of the religious right.

They’re chomping at the bit, if the Democrats lose their slim majority in Congress and a Republican becomes president in 2024, to impose a federal ban on abortion.

To add to this toxic mix, some Republicans and members of the religious right want to punish women who’ve had abortions.

I am terrified for all who seek reproductive health care.

I have childhood memories of my mom, who had type 1 diabetes, having an abortion pre- Roe v. Wade. If my mother hadn’t had the abortion, she may have died when I was 7 and my brother was 4. Though devastated by the stigma of having an abortion when terminating a pregnancy wasn’t legal, my mom was lucky. She could afford to have an abortion.

Then (as now), many poor women couldn’t have afforded to have an abortion or have the means to travel out of state to end their pregnancies.

One in four women have had an abortion. Now those needing reproductive health care (whether an abortion or, in some cases, treatment for miscarriage) again face stigma. Poverty will prevent many from having legal, safe abortions.

People won’t stop terminating their pregnancies. If they have to, they’ll resort to unsafe, self-administered abortions.

As a lesbian, I, like many queer folk, fear that the repeal of Roe will be a foreshadowing of the overturning of LGBTQ rights (from marriage equality to the right to have sex with whom we love).

In post-Roe America, fighting for the rights and dignity of women, LGBTQ folk and other marginalized people will be the life’s work of our generation and of generations to come.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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