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This Year in LGBT Higher Education News

December 29, 2011, 10:08 pm

I always love to check out the “Top 10 news stories/movies/songs/sports disasters/etc. of 2011″ stories when they hit the national news at this time of year. So, in the same spirit, I give you my top 10 news stories related to LGBT issues in higher education.

1. No professional homophobia allowed. One of the most exciting stories to me, as I am a court geek and a professor in a professional discipline, is the decision by a federal Court of Appeals in Georgia (of all places) that affirmed the right of a professional field to require students to practice competently with LGBT populations. Students in professional fields (in this case, counseling) cannot claim a religious exemption from working with queers. So, if you say, “Oh, I can’t work with gay people without proselytizing, trying to fix or save them, or being hateful,” guess what? You don’t get the counseling/nursing/medical/social work/dental/OT/PT degree.  LOVE this. A similar case, regarding an Eastern Michigan counseling student, was heard just this month by another federal appeals court.

2. Mixed Michigan mishugoss.While the story above was a victory, we also saw what could best be called a “King Solomon decision” regarding domestic partner benefits in Michigan. The bill to strike domestic partner benefits from all state and local government entities was passed, but it included a last minute amendment to omit public colleges and universities from its purview. As one news article explains:

Republican lawmakers in the House contend that the amended law defines public employees through Michigan’s Public Employees Relations Act, which includes employees of universities. The amended bill says it applies to employees at state and local governments and boards, public schools and “any other branch of the public service.”

Higher education proponents contend public universities have power through the Michigan Constitution to determine their own policies through separate governing bodies, such as boards of regents or trustees.

“There’s some confusion out there about whether universities are going to be included or not,” State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said yesterday. “The Senate thinks no. The House thinks yes.”

The Governor, who signed the bill on December 22nd as a lovely Christmas fuck you gift to the state’s LGBT employees, goes along with the Senate perspective and asserts that public higher education institutions aren’t included.

3. Do ask, do tell. I am not talking about the repeal of the DADT law, which did causee several universities to allow ROTC and military recruiters to come back on campus. Technically, that was last year’s story. No, I am referring to the decision by Elmhurst College to ask applicants about their sexual orientation and gender identity. Why is this a big deal? Well, first, adding the question recognizes that sexual orientation and gender identity are an important part of someone’s identity. Second, asking for this information normalizes our sexual orientation as one identity among many that shape our lives. Of course, I am also a data geek who studies LGBT issues in higher ed, so having more data on the experiences of LGBT students can’t be anything but good. For example, there is some data that indicates that LGBT students drop out at a very high rate. We can’t say that definitively, because we don’t know if our students identify as LGBT, because NO ONE EVER ASKS THEM! Having data in this area could be very helpful. Now, if the common application would only add the questions…

4. No cash for campus queers. Great story in April 2011 about legislators in the Texas House who passed a budget provision proposed by Rep. Wayne Christian “requiring state colleges and universities, if they use state funds to support ‘a gender and sexuality center,’ to spend an equal amount on a center promoting ‘family and traditional values.’” I blogged about it then, loving the idea that the legislators saw the UT-Austin campus LGBT center as such a powerful force.

5. Queer family financial aid woes. The Center for American Progress released a report outlining the confusing process of filing for financial aid facing students from same-sex parent families or students married to someone of the same sex. Federal financial aid forms and the Defense of Marriage Act’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages yield both positive and negative potential impacts for these students. While the report doesn’t solve these problems, it offers more evidence that DOMA needs to be repealed or struck down in a federal court.

6. Head Queers in Charge. The LGBT Presidents in Higher Education group that started in 2010 met for the first time at the annual American Council on Education (ACE) meeting, even appearing on their own LGBT President panel. I find this group very inspirational. They even made their own “It gets better” youtube video.

7. Peter Gomes dies. Openly gay Harvard University professor and minister of its Memorial Church died in late February 2011, after years of writing and speaking out about homosexuality and the Christian church. As the New York Times wrote:

In 1991, [Gomes] appeared before an angry crowd of students, faculty members and administrators protesting homophobic articles in a conservative campus magazine whose distribution had led to a spate of harassment and slurs against gay men and lesbians on campus. Mr. Gomes, putting his reputation and career on the line, announced that he was “a Christian who happens as well to be gay.”

When the cheers faded, there were expressions of surprise from the Establishment, and a few calls for his resignation, which were ignored. The announcement changed little in Mr. Gomes’s private life; he had never married and said he was celibate by choice. But it was a turning point for him professionally.

“I now have an unambiguous vocation — a mission — to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he told The Washington Post months later. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays.”

He was true to his word. His sermons and lectures, always well attended, were packed in Cambridge and around the country as he embarked on a campaign to rebut literal and fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. He also wrote extensively on intolerance.

I was able to meet Dr. Gomes once in person and hear him speak, and I came away very impressed by his quick wit and thoughtful presence. His impact on the discussions of homosexuality and the Christianity Bible was profound.

8. We were there, we were queer, get over it already. Great small story about alumni response to a letter in the college paper from a gay young man who wanted to support LGBT students on the campus of Westmont College, a Christian school that prohibits “homosexual practices” by its students. Their response was no doubt informed by the rash of LGBT teen and young adult suicides in summer/fall 2010. They write:

…[The letter] resonated for those of us who, as Westmont students, experienced doubt, loneliness and fear due to the college’s stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. We affirm, with Artie, that it does get better and hope that it will get better at Westmont too.

The 31 LGBT signatories span the decades between the 1970s and 2010, and there are many, many more allies alums who also signed in support. The faculty and administration responded to the open letter by inviting the writers to meet and discuss their concerns.

9. The state giveth, the governor taketh away, the feds give it back! University of Arizona faculty and staff sued in 2009 to reinstate the domestic partner health benefits that started in 2008. On September 6, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today affirmed a district court decision keeping an Arizona state law from going into effect that, as the appeals court puts it, “would have terminated eligibility for health-care benefits of state employees’ same-sex partners.” Of course, Governor Brewer is appealing this ruling and asking for a hearing from the entire 9th Circuit panel.

10. Dyke bloggers on the Chronicle! Okay, so it might only have been big news for Tenured Radical and me, but it was pretty cool to have two out lesbians blogging for the Chronicle Blog Network. I talked to TR about the move, and we both were pretty excited about it. TR took the plunge first in July, and she worked out most of the kinks in the Blogspot to WordPress/Chronicle transition. My first entry was on September 1, 2011, as I watched Irene tear up the east coast of the US. While we fielded some complaints from readers of our former blogs, who hated the Disquis commenting process and bemoaned the Chronicle trolls, I will say that the Chronicle has given me more exposure, readers, and connections than I ever saw on my other site.

Alright, that caps off a year of queer, friends! Be sure to check back in 2012. Happy New Year!

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