The Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network and Pacific Pride Foundation stand with Spectrum Ministries in their efforts to fight institutional discrimination in our community and statewide. —Pacific Pride Foundation; and Max Rorty, founder and board president, SBTAN
Christian colleges across the state scrambled to stop SB 1146, a bill made to protect LGBT students from discrimination at religious colleges. Given the news on August 10 that vital sections of the bill were cut, it looks like they got what they want. No longer will the bill include that colleges cannot receive publicly supported Cal Grant funds if they apply for or hold an exemption to the federal mandate Title IX, which prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Just as bad, the revised bill strips students of the right to privately sue their college for discrimination.
Christian colleges twisted these mandates to claim they are the true victims of this bill, rather than the LGBT students they actively oppress. Two weeks ago, Santa Barbara’s own Westmont College also spoke up when college president Gayle Beebe sent out a letter in which he wrote, “About 13,000-16,000 students who qualify for need-based Cal Grants attend faith-based schools, and they will likely lose their opportunity to attend institutions like Westmont unless this bill is defeated.”
President Beebe makes it sound as if losing state funding would have been the inevitable fallout of this bill. But that’s actually 100 percent false. It’s actually quite easy to continue accepting state funds: all Westmont has to do is not apply for an exemption to Title IX. In the past year, over 40 schools across the nation have applied for (and most have received) exemptions from the Department of Education, allowing them to keep receiving federal funds while discriminating. Westmont has not yet applied, so its Cal Grant funds are not at risk.
Even if Westmont did apply for an exemption, it wouldn’t have much of a case because anti-LGBT discrimination is not a central tenet to Christianity. The facts simply don’t line up there, as the dozens of organizations springing up for LGBT Christians will tell you, including my own organization, Spectrum Ministries Santa Barbara. As a gay Christian who graduated from Westmont, I affirm LGBT relationships because of my faith, not in spite of it. The dozens of LGBT Westmont students and alumni will tell you the same thing.
Westmont has betrayed its student body by falsely pitting LGBT students against students needing financial aid (and just to be clear, those two groups aren’t mutually exclusive). Westmont claims that in order to support one of those groups, it must give up on the other. That’s simply not true, and it shows that Westmont truly cares more about its coffers than its student community.
But even before these edits, the bill never really went far enough. I spent the majority of my time at Westmont feeling unwelcome, my faith constantly questioned, my views constantly attacked. I have friends who have lost jobs or student leader positions because of their sexual orientation. Students use gay slurs, and chapel messages reinforce the idea that LGBT people are sub-human. Sure, many colleges have just recently applied for Title IX exemptions, but they were discriminating long before that — Westmont included. And until we have a bill that goes further than SB 1146 or a community that doesn’t let Westmont get away with discrimination, Westmont will continue to harass and discriminate against LGBT students and get away with it, too — no federal exemption required.