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California law requires private colleges to disclose anti-LGBTQ policies

LGBTQ students and staff at California’s religious colleges and universities that receive taxpayer money, such as Biola University in La Mirada, will soon be able to find out if any school policies are exempt from federal and state laws, thus allowing them to discriminate against LGBTQ people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Photo: Facebook.

SACRAMENTO – LGBTQ students and staff at California’s religious colleges and universities that receive taxpayer money will soon be able to find out if any school policies are exempt from federal and state laws, thus allowing them to discriminate against LGBTQ people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Under The Equity in Higher Education Act, S.B. 1146, which will start in the 2017-2018 school year, those colleges and universities will be required to disclose all policies that are exempt from federal or state nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in late September. State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced the bill.

“No university should have a license to discriminate, especially those receiving state funds,” Lara said in a statement. “Those that do will now have to inform students and the public of their Title IX exemption. This law represents a critical first step in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination…”

TITLE IX EXEMPTIONS
The federal law Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender, including sexual orientation and gender identity, in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. However, if a university believes compliance with Title IX would conflict with its religion it may submit an exemption request to the U.S. Department of Education. The department has very little discretion and most requests are granted, according to the statement from Lara’s office.

The law also requires the California Student Aid Commission to post an online list of schools disclosing exemptions to nondiscrimination laws.

FIERCE OPPOSITION
Lara almost had to move heaven and hell to get the bill passed. In the beginning, several religious colleges fiercely opposed the legislation.

The initial version of the bill would have allowed LGBTQ students at religious schools to file lawsuits when they experienced discrimination. Several religious schools, including Biola University in La Mirada, opposed that bill because they said it might prohibit them from enforcing rules consistent with their religious beliefs.

In August, Lara amended the bill and focused on requiring disclosures, which lead to Biola and other schools supporting the compromise bill.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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