Universities across the country have LGBT Resource Centers to provide support services and programming that help create a safer and more inclusive learning environment for LGBT students, but Texas conservatives are taking aim at these facilities. Wednesday night, the Texas A&M University Student Senate voted 35-28 to pass what was renamed the “Religious Funding Exemption Bill,” which allows students to opt-out of paying the portion of their student fees that goes toward the campus GLBT Resource Center — about $2 — if they have religious objections.
Apparently, the bill was expanded at the last minute so that it didn’t simply target the GLBT Resource Center, but the impracticality remains. After all, as an editorial in the student newspaper The Battalion points out today, a student could make an argument to “morally oppose” any campus service. University officials, who have final approval over any budget changes, explained that students are disallowed from paying the University Advancement Fee. Moreover, Student Body President John Claybrook has not decided if he might veto the bill, though he did win his position running against the bill’s sponsor, Thomas McNutt. Given that it passed with a narrower vote than was expected, it may not have the support to override such a veto.
Though it’s unclear this student-led attack on LGBT Aggies is enforceable, the state legislature is considering a broader change that very well could. Texas Rep. Bill Zedler (R) has filed an amendment to the state’s appropriations bill to cut funding for public universities that have “Gender and Sexuality Centers and Related Student Centers.” The amendment offensively claims that the centers promote behaviors that have a high risk for disease:
An institution of higher education may not use money appropriated to the institution under this Act, or any property or facility of the institution funded by appropriations under this Act, to support, promote, or encourage any behavior that would lead to high risk behavior for AIDS, HIV, Hepatitis B, or any sexually transmitted disease.
Many LGBT resource centers work directly with campus health services to promote safe sex practices and overall sexual health for all students — even those who aren’t LGBT. Zedler is simply implying that anything gay is therefore unhealthy, a stigmatizing stereotype not based on reality. Rep. Wayne Christian (R) attempted a similar measure blocking support for LGBT services in 2011, but Democratic opposition forced him to withdraw it. Texas lawmakers are considering several other bills this term that target schools for supporting LGBT students and employees.
There is one glimmer of good news for LGBT students in Texas. While A&M’s student government was busy voting for a religious right to discriminate, the University of Houston’s student government unanimously passed a resolution opposing Zedler’s amendment.