Reinvesting in intolerance
With the same-sex marriage debate in Supreme Court looming large, the nation’s short attention span has turned an eye to gay rights — gay marriage in particular. With more U.S. senators and professional athletes coming out in support of gay marriage, it would seem the country is shifting toward a more relaxed and open stance on gay rights.
And then there is Texas.
Chris Woolsey, Northside student senator for Texas A&M University, introduced SB65-70, a bill “requesting that students who object to funding the GLBT Resource Center through their student fees and tuition for religious reasons be allowed to opt out from funding (the GLBT Resource Center)” on March 20. If passed, this bill would amount to allowing institutional discrimination.
This comes as no surprise as Texas A&M was recently named one of the 12 least friendly campuses in the nation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals by the Huffington Post, along with the University of Dallas, a private Catholic university, and Southern Methodist University, a private Methodist university.
“While it can be argued that the GLBT Resource Center is a worthy use of funds in order to provide a welcoming environment for vulnerable populations at Texas A&M, it is reasonable for students to object to a use of their own money that is in direct opposition to their own religious values,” Wolley said in the bill.
Imagine instead it was a women’s resource center. It would be unthinkable to advocate defunding the women’s center for morally disagreeing with its actions. LGBT students are at a disadvantage on a campus such as Texas A&M because of the hostilities they face.
“The effects of this bill reach beyond our student organization of the GLBT Aggies. The resource center under attack is a separate Texas A&M University campus office,” said Kimberly Villa, GLBT Aggies president. “If this bill were to pass in the Senate, it would be used as the official student body opinion, which can be particularly dangerous when LGBT students and allies have made so much progress in connecting with other Aggies and changing a misconception about our university.”
The Texas A&M Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center uses its office on campus to facilitate conversations with LGBT students, allies, faculty and staff.
“The GLBT Resource Center serves a multitude of purposes that, if removed, would damage a great portion of our student body,” Villa said. “The GLBT Resource Center is not an organization being funded by student fees. The GLBT Resource Center is an office on campus like the Women’s Resource Center and others under the Office of Student Life. I urge individuals who support this bill to think more critically of what it actually means to the students it is directly affecting and less about what they may have heard.”
UH LGBT Program Director Lorraine Schroeder said that while the LGBT Resource Center is not student-funded, those who would favor a UH bill like the one at Texas A&M should do so for reasons other than religion.
“The LGBT Resource Center at UH is not funded by student fees,” Schroeder said. “If it were, our response would be that tuition and fees are spent according to what benefits students and contributes to their success, not according to one group’s religious beliefs.”
Schroeder said that the resource center does not aim to help just LGBT students, but students across the entire campus as well.
“We work with all students and collaborate with multiple departments that realize having a campus that is diverse and accepting of differences makes for a richer learning environment for all students,” Schroeder said.
James Lee, student senator-elect and president of the UH chapter of the Texas Freedom Network, said he was saddened by the news.
“It would be a great shame if the oldest GLBT Center in Texas’ history would no longer be able to remain open due to the conservative politics of TAMU’s Student Senate,” Lee said. “In my personal experience, the UH LGBT Resource Center was a place where I felt I could recover from the experiences I had faced while growing up in an unwelcoming environment, and it served its purpose.”
Woolsey did not reply for comment; however, the political landscape on the issue of gay rights is changing. This attempt to defund the center shines a bad spotlight on Texas A&M’s campus and may foreshadow what is to come in the state legislature.
Alex Caballero is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected]