Opponents say proposed law granting LGBT students right to sue schools would hurt students most

By Taryn Phaneuf | Jul 22, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Opponents of a proposed bill granting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students the right to sue religious colleges and universities for discrimination say not only would the law trample on a school’s religious identity, it could also limit students’ choices when it comes to picking a college.

The bill would subject schools that receive state funding or enrolls students who receive state aid to state law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of a protected class, including gender and sexual orientation. This includes changing policies concerning male and female restrooms, married student housing, moral conduct and enforcement of religious practices if they are discriminatory.

It also would require schools to disclose their policies on these kinds of issues during the application process to make sure prospective students, as well as faculty and staff, know where they stand.

The federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex is applied to schools that receive federal funding under Title IX. However, Title IX includes a religious exemption for institutions controlled by a religious organization if applying Title IX conflicts with the school’s religious tenets. Interpretation of Title IX includes discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

By putting these conditions on a school’s ability to enroll students using a Cal Grant, a form of state financial aid, the bill could mean those students – mostly low-income minority students, many of which are the first in their families to pursue higher education – can’t attend private religious schools that don’t change their practices, John Gerardi, spokesperson for the California Family Alliance, told the Northern California Record.

The California Family Alliance, a nonprofit political organization affiliated with the California Family Council that advocates for pro-life and family issues, is one of several opponents bringing concerns about the effects of the bill to members of the General Assembly, hoping to stop it from being passed in its current form.

“There’s this mindset that these Christian schools are harassing LGBT kids – they’re kicking them out just for being gay. I don’t think that’s the case,” Gerardi said. “The law says you have to change your practices and therefore your beliefs. If you don’t, we’d say the chief collateral damage in all of this is going to be students.”

The bill was introduced in the State Senate by Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara. It passed the Senate in May and moved onto the General Assembly, where it passed the education and judiciary committees and was sent to the appropriations committee ahead of the July recess. The bill is opposed by other religious and conservative groups, as well as the Association of Private Colleges and Universities, which is leading the negotiations with Lara to amend the bill.

Though there is a decisive Democratic majority in the state legislature, Gerardi said he thinks opponents of the bill have a greater chance of success because of the broad potential impact of the legislation, including concerns about First Amendment violations and the impact on student choice and Cal Grants.

"We agree with Sen. Lara’s goals to protect LGBT students from unjust discrimination and provide greater transparency," Gerardi said. "We don't want LGBT kids to be unfairly persecuted either. What we do want is the ability for these schools to maintain their religious identities. It targets certain religious viewpoints and favors others."

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