LGBT students and alumni rallied outside two Christian colleges today, protesting each school's request to receive a waiver of LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections guaranteed by the federal government.
As the LGBT community has celebrated monumental strides in the fight for equal protection under the law in the past two years, more than two dozen religiously affiliated schools have requested an exemption to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forbids sex discrimination at any educational institution that receives any federal funding. Over that same time period, the Obama administration has consistently held that Title IX protections also extend to transgender students, meaning that schools receiving federal funds cannot discriminate against students based on their gender identity. Most schools — be they private, parochial, or public — receive some federal funds, through research grants or student financial aid, and are therefore required to adhere to Title IX.
But Title IX also allows any school “controlled by a religious organization” to apply for a waiver from the nondiscrimination requirement if complying with Title IX “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”
Those waiver requests are what drew activists and alumni to Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. (pictured below), and Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Okla., today.
An estimated 40 students gathered at the Biola campus, carrying signs that demanded the school — originally known as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles — "Give Back IX." The school recently came under fire from progressive activists for asking all staff to affirm a "doctrinal statement" that includes proscriptions against marriage equality and abortion.
A transgender alumnus who graduated in 2014 and spoke at today's demonstration recounted how they felt unable to come out while attending school, pointing to "social pressures at Biola as well as the greater backdrop of evangelical Christianity."
"Title IX exemptions make the environment of fear and rejection more tangible," Coley Baker (who uses the gender-neutral pronouns they and them) said in a press release. "Students shouldn't be afraid of being kicked out of a university that they're paying to attend due to their gender identity."
In Oklahoma, 15 current and former students passed out flyers informing students and faculty about Oklahoma Baptist University's request for a Title IX exemption — since the school did not announce that it was seeking a waiver. Demonstrators, including members of the school's LGBT group, Bison 4 Equality, did not photograph their action, reportedly fearing retribution from administrators at the Baptist school.
The demonstrations, coordinated by LGBT faith and social justice group Soulforce, are slated to the first of many — scheduled for the ninth day of each coming month — intended to raise awareness about the waiver requests, which organizers decry as a "request to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."
The campaign, titled #GiveBackIX, "is demanding Christian campuses be held accountable in creating unsafe learning environments," a press release states. "LGBTQI students deserve a campus culture in which they can thrive educationally and spiritually without fear." The stated goal of the campaign is to convince the religious schools to nullify the waiver requests and to ensure total compliance with Title IX's protections from sex-based discrimination.
An official with Biola University tells The Advocate a student organizer acknowledged that "they had not gone through Biola's approval process to host a peaceful demonstration on campus, and agreed to disband" when approached by a staffer.
"Biola encouraged the current students to go through the approval process if they wish to host a peaceful demonstration in the future," the official says.
The statement, attributed to Biola University, continued:
"As stated in the student handbook, it is the desire of Biola University to promote appropriate expression of diverse views that do not fundamentally conflict with the mission/identity of our unique Christian higher education community. To accomplish this, provision for all students is made for public expression through rallies, demonstrations, marches, silent vigils, peaceful assemblies, etc. Biola aims to offer an environment that promotes openness, dialogue and care for any and every student, including those who communicate they are struggling with same-sex behavior or sexual identity."