Every year, Camps Pride updates its “Worst List,” a ranking of sorts that features colleges and universities with a documented history of anti-LGBTQ+ actions, programs and practices. The latest list found that colleges and universities in the past year took subtler ways of antagonizing LGBTQ+ students by leveraging their religious affiliation to escape being accused of sexual harassment by the federal government.
Under Title IX, institutions are prohibited from discriminating based on sex in any education program or activity operated by a recipient of federal financial assistance. Those who violate the statutes run the risk of losing out on taxpayer funding. However, the rule also states that colleges and universities that are controlled by a religious organization can claim an exemption if adhering to Title IX would contradict their religious tenets.
Enter Faulkner University, Oak Valley College and Baylor University, institutions which have all successfully filed for a Title IX religious exemption. Baylor’s case may be the most significant, considering its national prominence and the extent of its exemption.
“For the first time in Title IX’s history, a federally-funded university has been given special permission, by the Biden Administration no less, to allow its LGBTQIA+ students to be sexually harassed,” wrote Paul Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, in a statement.
“The University requests assurance ‘that the belief in or practice of its religious tenets by the University or its students’ would not constitute ‘unwelcome conduct’ under the Department’s definition of ‘sexual harassment’ under Title IX,” stated a letter from the OCR approving Baylor’s exemption.
Baylor is the first known university to have requested and received a Title IX religious exemption that covers sexual harassment, according to Campus Pride.
“The freedom of religion is important, but that freedom doesn’t give anyone the right to discriminate, harass and inflict lasting harm on students, and that’s what’s happening at every single college and university on the Worst List,” said Shane Mendez Windmeyer, executive director at Campus Pride. “Discrimination against LGBTQ+ people has become more visible and blatant on many college campuses this year, even under the current Democratic administration.”
However, Baylor President Linda Livingstone affirms that the university still “welcomes and supports” all its LGBTQ+ students and employees but that it can’t sacrifice its core religious tenets due to student sexual preference.
“Recognizing the complicated realities that many of these individuals experience as they navigate issues surrounding sexual orientation, gender identity, and religious doctrine, Baylor is committed to showing love and respect to each member of its campus community and ‘welcom[ing] all students into a safe and supportive environment in which to discuss and learn about a variety of issues, including those of human sexuality,'” wrote Livingstone to the Department of Education.
Other LGBTQ+ “worst list” additions outside of leveraging religious exemption
Aside from those who applied for Title IX exemption, some colleges this past year took more blatant actions against university staff who demonstrated LGBTQ+ support.
A dean at Point Loma Nazarene University (Calif.) was allegedly fired in March for siding with a colleague who had been terminated for her support of LGBTQ rights, Times of San Diego reports. The official reason from the university was “insubordination.”
Additionally, Geneva College (Penn.) let go of women’s soccer coach Kelsey Morrison in July after posting about inclusiveness on social media.