Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organisation, praised the U.S. Department of Education for helping to increase transparency and accountability by publishing a list of educational institutions who have received an exemption from federal civil rights law in order to discriminate against LGBT students. HRC first called on the Department of Education in December to take action in light of this growing and disturbing trend by some religious colleges and universities.
“We commend the Department of Education for answering our call for greater transparency and helping to ensure no student unknowingly enrols in a school that intends to discriminate against them,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “The alarming and growing trend of schools quietly seeking the right to discriminate against LGBT students, and not disclosing that information publicly, is what spurred our call for greater transparency. We believe that religious liberty is a bedrock principle of our nation, however, faith should never be used as a guise for discrimination.”
Released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the list of educational institutions published today can be found here.
HRC first called on the Department of Education to take action in a comprehensive report released in December called Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk. In the report, HRC spotlighted 56 colleges and universities based in 26 states across every region of the country – which collectively have nearly 120,000 students – that have requested religious exemptions under Title IX since 2013. These institutions have utilised a little-known provision in the law that allows educational institutions controlled by a religious organisation to request an exemption from full compliance with the law if “application of the law would conflict with specific tenets of the religion.”
In the report, HRC specifically called for:
- The Department of Education to require schools to publish comprehensive information about the scope of the exemption they received, the characteristics or behaviours to which the exemption applies, and the way in which Title IX still protects students;
- The Department of Education to regularly report which educational institutions have been granted Title IX religious exemptions, the scope of those exemptions, the characteristics or behaviours to which the exemption applies; and
- Congress to amend the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) governing statute to require OCR to annually report the number of Title IX exemptions that were requested, granted, and denied.
While the Department of Education has little discretion to deny these requests for exemptions, HRC believes religiously controlled educational institutions should not be exempt from full transparency.
LGBT students face discrimination and harassment at an alarming rate. 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.