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.
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.