UPDATE: Virginia Senate Gives Student Groups Green-light to Discriminate on Campus
The Virginia state senate approved a bill yesterday that will allow student organizations at publicly funded colleges and universities to legally discriminate against prospective members. The bill, SB 1074, passed by a vote of 22-18.
“Sen. (Mark) Obenshain (R-Va.), the bill’s patron, used free association in his argument and was insistent that LGBT people, vegans, Republicans, and Democrats would be able to have their own groups," Kevin Clay, spokesperson for Equality Virginia told Campus Progress. However, he continued, “excluding students from joining an organization is discrimination plain and simple, and the true impact is to be seen here.”
Obenshain demanded that current rules banning discrimination prevent student organizations from requiring their leaders to be open about their relevant core beliefs. He claimed the bill was necessary to support student groups in defending their missions.
“For example, a vegan group couldn’t require that all its members be vegans,” Obenshain said.
But now, pending the approval of Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, they can. However, the gains made by fervent vegans from the passing of the bill will not measure up to the open discrimination LGBT students will now face on their campuses.
Clay noted Equality Virginia is disappointed with the vote but appreciates the senators that spoke out opposing this legislation.
Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Va.), the only openly gay legislator in Virginia, illuminated what he believed to be the true intention of the bill: “Virginia law and federal law allow discrimination against gay people, and that’s what this bill is about—plain and simple. It’s not about freedom of expression, because groups are allowed to express themselves any way they want. It’s about using tax payer dollars to fund discrimination.”
Student fees paid by LGBT students will be distributed throughout organizations and may in turn now fund groups that blatantly discriminate against them.
“Public universities should foster free speech and expression in compliance with their policies of inclusion and nondiscrimination," Clay said, "and providing funding to organizations that do the opposite would be contradictory and wrong.”
Anya Callahan is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @LezAnya.