Virginia Bill Could Allow for Open Discrimination by Student Groups
Last week the Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill that could allow student organizations at public universities to openly discriminate against prospective members.
HB 1617, approved with an 80-19 vote, could leave LGBT students especially susceptible to discrimination. Many state colleges and universities have non-discrimination policies relating to sexual orientation in place, but they wouldn't act as much protection because they are not binding under state law. The state Senate is now reviewing the new measure.
Kevin Clay, a spokesperson for Equality Virginia, a major LGBTQ advocacy organization, told Campus Progress that Equality Virginia opposes the bill and is disappointed the House passed the bill by such a large margin. Democratic representatives made up all of the 19 votes against the bill.
“It looks innocent at first glance, but could have some very serious implications for students on our public university campuses.” Clay explained it’s important to spread the word about the dangers of the bill and “educate the Senate that this legislation grants public funding to student organizations that could discriminate in their membership instead of protecting students that wish to join these groups." Equality Virginia urged residents to contact their Senators and voice their opinion on the bill. The description of the bill reads as follows:
Prohibits public institutions of higher education that grant recognition of and access to any student organization or group from discriminating against a student organization or group on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the organization or group's speech.
The bill authorizes religious or political student organizations or groups to determine that ordering the organization's internal affairs, selecting the organization's leaders and members, defining the organization's doctrines, and resolving the organization's disputes are in furtherance of the organization's religious or political mission and that only persons committed to that mission should conduct those activities.” Meaning groups can internally determine who is eligible for membership and deny access to those they do not wish to include.
The bill protects student organizations, not individual students. This could be a major step backward for LGBT rights on college campuses in Virginia.
Anya Callahan is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @LezAnya.