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Conflict about the religious freedom/liberty to discriminate

Title IX religious exemptions, religious
colleges, and discrimination against
the LGBT community:

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Review about gender and how it is defined and determined, in case you are unfamiliar with it:

"Title IX" is a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in any education program or activity that receives federal funding. 1,2 Unfortunately, there is no single, universally acceptable, definition for the term "gender," or method by which gender is determined for each person.
  • Gender is generally determined at birth by observing the newborn's genital structures. This is then registered on their birth certificate. Religious and social conservatives generally use this as the sole criteria for determining a newborn's gender throughout their entire life from cradle to grave, and perhaps beyond.

  • Another measure is the presence or absence of a "Y" sex chromosome in a person's DNA. Presence of a "Y" chromosome indicates male; its absence indicates female.

  • A final measure is the person's gender identity. This is their gender as they perceive it to be. There are structures in each person's brain that, like their genitals, come in two types: male and female. The male and female structures differ in size and in the number of neurons that they contain. It appears that a person derives their sexual identity from these structures. Religious and social liberals and the LGBT community generally use gender identity as the sole criteria for determining a person's gender.
About 99.7% of adults are cisgender: their brain and genital structures match. But in a small minority of adults, their gender identity is different from their birth-identified gender. They are transgender individuals. Most of this minority identify as the gender opposite to their birth-identified gender. Others identify as neither male nor female, or as switching between male and female. The internal conflict experienced by transgender persons is called "Gender Dysphoria." No amount of counseling or therapy has been known to resolve the issue.

A trans woman This picture is of a participant at a Gay Pride Parade in São Paulo. It is featured on the Wikipedia web site's essay on trans women. 2 She would be considered a male by most religious and social conservatives, and as female by herself, by most religious liberals, by social liberals, and by the LGBT community. Until this difference is resolved through dialog, conflict over the rights of transgender persons will continue. Unfortunately, on matters related to human sexuality -- from premarital sex to sex-ed; from marriage to masturbation; from sexual orientation to gender identity -- debate is common but true dialogue is almost nonexistent.

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2015-DEC-18: Human Rights Campaign (HRC) requested that the federal Department of Education take action on Title IX exemption requests:

The HRC is the largest national non-profit group promoting equality for the LGBT community. They note that dozens of U.S. colleges and universities, with students totaling in the tens of thousands, have sought exemptions from the Department of Education so that they can discriminate on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among their enrolled students. The HRC has asked the Department to make public such requests so that students will know in advance of enrolling whether they will be discriminated against.

The HRC report lists 56 colleges in 26 states that have requested religious exemptions under Title IX since 203. Exemptions have been granted to 33 schools to allow them to discriminate for religious reasons against students on the bases of gender identity. Twenty-three exemptions have been granted to schools to permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The schools have a total enrollment of almost 120,000 students. HRC President Chad Griffin said:

"There is an alarming and growing trend of schools quietly seeking the right to discriminate against LGBT students, and not disclosing that information publicly. We believe that religious liberty is a bedrock principle of our nation, however faith should never be used as a guise for discrimination. Prospective students and their parents deserve greater transparency, and we urge the Department of Education to take action by helping to increase accountability and to ensure that no student unknowingly enrolls in a school that intends to discriminate against them."

A HRC press release states:

"According to a 2010 study, lesbian, gay, and bisexual college students are nearly twice as likely to experience harassment when compared with their non-LGB peers, and are seven times more likely to indicate the harassment was based on their sexual orientation. In the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, one-fifth of transgender students reported that they were denied gender-appropriate housing, and five percent reported outright denial of campus housing. LGBT college students also suffer from higher rates of sexual assault and misconduct on America’s campuses; transgender and gender nonconforming students report one of the highest rates of sexual assault and misconduct." 2

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Why do some colleges and university request secrecy of their exemptions under Title IX?

The Daily Signal is a news outlet for The Heritage Foundation, a conservative group. Kelsey Harkness, writing for the Daily Signal said:

"Religious schools often believe that adhering to Title IX conflicts with tenets of their beliefs including on marriage, sexual orientation, and abortion."

With the guarantees of freedom of speech in the U.S. few would disagree with a college or university adopting policies that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or transsexual students, or against a loving, committed, married, same-sex couple, or against a student who has had an abortion. But many would disagree with the federal government advancing grants to such universities.

Southern Wesleyan University is located in South Carolina, and is owned by the Wesleyan Church. A spokesperson for acknowledged that the university:

"... did make a request for a Title IX exemption, citing our biblically based religious principles."

Union University is a Baptist college in Jackson, TN. Spokesperson Hunter Baker, a fellow for religious liberty at Union, said that if religious liberty exemptions were eroded, then schools would no longer be able to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. He said:

"If we were unable to choose faculty members who both live out and have a traditional view of Christian sexual morality, then that really damages our ability to pursue our mission as an institution. You’re making it illegal for us to insist on a Christian life and world view. ... Any kind of activity that would occur between two same-sex individuals would be unacceptable by our standards of conduct." [Emphasis not in the original]

Baker appears to misunderstand the nature of Title IX. In many states -- particularly in the South -- lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals are not protected classes under their state's human rights legislation. Similarly, as of the end of 2015, in spite of what the vast majority of American adults sincerely believe, there is no federal law protecting people from discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. Thus colleges like Southern Wesleyan and Union University can freely discriminate with impunity against faculty, staff, and students with minority sexualities and avoid any legal penalties. So, their discrimination against minorities is not illegal. The only topics that are at question here are whether the federal government should take tax money from persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and give it secretly in the form of grants to colleges and universities who will subsequently discriminate against these same persons. All the HRC is requesting is that the transaction be made public.

Roger Severino is the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. He described the request by the Human Rights Campaign an attempt to:

"... blacklist religiously-affiliated schools. ... We need more diversity in higher education institutions, not less, yet [the Human Rights Campaign] wants to out, interrogate, and blacklist religiously-affiliated schools that assert their right to continue to embody and pass on their teachings about marriage and human sexuality consistent with their faith. ..."

"The real story is the Department of Education’s attempt to force schools to provide unrestricted access to shared dorms, lockers, bathrooms and showers to persons who self-identify as male, female, none, or both, regardless of their biology or genetics. No one should be surprised when religious schools push back on this unprecedented federal intrusion." 4

Webmaster's opinion [Bias alert]

I agree that racial, gender, national origin diversity at universities is a good idea. However, I, a heterosexual, believe that for schools to increase their level of discrimination against sexual minorities is detrimental to society and should be discouraged.

On a positive note at least Severino uses the term "blacklist." That appears to indicate that he is aware that if becomes public knowledge which colleges and universities are discriminating against students on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, then such schools would suffer financially. Fewer students would be willing to enroll there because of the schools' discriminatory policies.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "HRC Calls on Department of Education to Take Action Following Anti-LGBT Religious Exemption Requests," Human Rights Campaign, 2015-DEC-18, at:
  2. Chat Griffin, "Hidden Discrimination: Title IX. Religious exemptions putting LGB students at risk," Human Rights Campaign, This is a PDF file.
  3. "Trans woman," Wikipedia, as on 2015-DEC-26, at: Photograph shown under the Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution which is explained at:
  4. Kelsey Harkness, "LGBT Group Calls on Government to Address ‘Disturbing Trend’ on Religious College Campuses," The Daily Signal, 2015-DEC-21, at:

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Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2015-DEC-26
Latest update : 2015-DEC-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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