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White House sued by LGBT+ students over ‘widespread discrimination’ at religious colleges

Maggie Baska March 31, 2021
Donald Trump Liberty University

The then-presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers the convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University 18 January 2016 in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A group of LGBT+ students have filed a class-action lawsuit against the US government to stop religious schools from receiving federal funds to discriminate against queer students.

The Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) announced on Tuesday (30 March) it filed a lawsuit in the US disctrict court in Oregon on behalf of 33 LGBT+ current and former students from 25 religious schools.

The case hinges on Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination but contains an exemption for religious entitles. Currently, religious institutions, including schools and higher education institutions, are exempt from federal rules which prohibit bodies from “excluding, separating, denying benefits to or otherwise treating students differently on the basis of sex”.

The lawsuit argues that the religious exemption to Title IX “allows widespread discrimination against LGBTQ students at faith-based colleges and universities across the nation”. The students alleged that they faced discrimination at federally-funded religious universities and colleges, which was allowed because of the Title IX exemption.

Paul Southwick, attorney and director of the REAP, said the lawsuit will ask a federal court to “declare that the religious exemption to Title IX, as applied to a class of LGBTQ+ students attending the more than 200 religiously affiliated colleges in the United States that openly discriminate against them, using taxpayer dollars, is unconstitutional”.

“It is a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of religion and a violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ guarantee of Equal Protection under the law for LGBTQ+ Americans,” Southwick said.

Alex Duron, a gay man who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said his admission into a graduate nursing programme at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, was revoked after the institution found out he lived with his male partner. He said Union’s policies “denied me access to the federally-funded nursing program of my choice”.

“A federally-funded institution should not be able to pick and choose who can receive an education,” Duron said. “I should have been protected by Title IX, but I was not because of a religious exemption.”

Lucas Wilson, another plaintiff in the case, told NBC News that he was submitted to the cruel, pseudo-scientific practise of conversion therapy from a student club while he attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia from 2008 to 2012.

He admitted that the “biggest factor” in why he chose to attend the university “was ultimately the conversion therapy programme because I, in fact, believed that one could become straight”.

Wilson also alleged that he had several classes that taught the “evils of the homosexual lifestyle”. He added the conversion therapy group and the homophobic culture at Liberty “amplified and compounded feelings of self-hatred, feelings of shame and guilt and anxiety that ultimately took years to deconstruct”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education told NBC News that the Joe Biden administration is “fully committed to equal education access for all students”.

The spokesperson pointed to an executive order that Biden put out earlier this month that said: “All students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex… including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“For students attending schools and other educational institutions that receive Federal financial assistance, this guarantee is codified, in part, in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq., which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

Liberty University and Union University have been contacted for comment.

More: Homophobia, transphobia, White House

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