Senate approves bill to protect LGBT students against discrimination at private universitiesOnline Only, Top Highlights, Around the Nation Saturday, May 28th, 2016
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The California State Senate has approved a bill, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and sponsored by Equality California, to close a loophole that allows private universities to discriminate against students and staff based on their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Senate Bill 1146 would require universities that are granted a Title IX exemption to disclose that information to the California Student Aid Commission and disseminate the information to students and staff. The bill would also allow an individual who has encountered discrimination at a school claiming a Title IX exemption to pursue a remedy through a civil action. SB 1146 cleared the Senate Education Committee this morning and passed the Senate floor by a vote of 25-13.
“Under state law, at least 34 California universities are exempt and do not have to comply with state non-discrimination laws, leaving thousands of students open to discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Senator Ricardo Lara. “These universities have a license to discriminate and students have absolutely no recourse. Addressing this issue is long overdue.”
At the federal level, Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other things, in education programs and activities that receive any federal funding. However, private universities can use a loophole to avoid complying with Title IX. If a university believes compliance with Title IX would conflict with its values it may submit an exemption request to the U.S. Department of Education. The department has very little discretion and most requests are granted.
“Prospective students and employees have a right to know if the school they are considering attending or working at will treat them with dignity and respect, or will make them a target of discrimination,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “SB 1146 makes that bias public, and will inform students, faculty and staff at these academic institutions and allow individuals to protect themselves.”
Over the last three years there has been a significant increase in the number of universities who apply for and receive an exemption to Title IX. Only one school was granted an exemption in 2013. Today, at least 43 schools nationally have received an exemption, at least six of them in California. Currently, the universities that receive Title IX exemptions do not have to disclose their status to students or staff. Many students are completely unaware of the exemption and what the potential consequences might be in the event their sexual orientation or gender identity does not align with the university’s values. Students and staff across the country have reported learning of the exemption only after being expelled from school or fired from their jobs.
In a recent incident at a university in southern California, a student recently came out as gay on social media during a leave of absence. When it was time to return to school, the university refused to readmit him. Transgender students have also reported being denied access to gender appropriate housing and some have been expelled as a result of their revealing their gender identity. Currently these students and staff have no recourse.
The bill is sponsored by Equality California and supported by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the Transgender Law Center.
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