Story by Alyssa Williams | Contributing Writer
One lawmaker threatens the rights of LGBTQ students in Tennessee public colleges after a Republican state representative told schools to remove their protection from Title IX.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is most commonly known as a law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial assistance. Most know it covers athletics, but it also covers recruitment, admissions, counseling, financial assistance, sex-based harassment, sexual assault, sexual violence, discipline, single-sex education, employment and the treatment of pregnant and parenting students.
Due to a 2021 executive order from President Joe Biden, Title IX now encompasses the rights of LGBTQ students and prohibits sex discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, after 20 states filed a legal challenge, the order was restrained in July by a federal judge in Knoxville. Essentially, the schools could not act upon the executive order.
Republican Rep. John Ragan for the Tennessee House of Representatives sent letters to public universities across the state that instructed them to remove any content that said LGBTQ students are protected by Title IX. Because Biden’s executive order was restrained, it would be inappropriate to follow any of its guidelines.
“As a result, college and university publications, policies and websites have no legal authorization or requirement to state or imply LGBTQI+ is a protected class under Title IX,” the letter said.
If the schools followed the order, they could be violating state laws. Some of these laws include prohibiting transgender students from playing on athletic teams that encompass their gender identity. He asked for the schools to reply with their changes in wording on this law.
Thus far, Middle Tennessee State University has not changed its website to exclude the protections of LGBTQ students in Title IX, nor have they instructed the staff to remove it from their syllabi.
“Transgender and gender non-conforming students are everywhere,” Eli Certain, a transgender student who uses they/them pronouns, said. “They are my friends and my family. They are me.”
Allowing discrimination on campus violates the spirit of an inclusive and safe place to learn, Certain said.
“Government officials are meant to serve all of their constituencies, not just some,” Certain said. “They cannot pick and choose who they serve. They must serve all of us. Do better.”
“Discrimination isn’t just hurt feelings,” Certain said. “It is a violation of our rights as Americans and as people. This means steps backwards. Backwards in progress, forcing people back into the closet and forcing them to live a life that is not theirs. Mental health worsens, and lives are lost.”
Other MTSU students shared this sentiment.
“This is embarrassing as an MTSU student and ally,” sophomore Sarah Meyers said. “No one should have to consider whether or not their college will allow discrimination against them when they’re choosing where to go to school.”
Some are even afraid about what this could mean for future LGBTQ students.
“LGBTQ+ students are literally having their rights stripped away from them for something they have no control over,” bisexual student Anna Kraft said. “As an LGBTQ+ Tennessee student, reading about what local politicians are voting for makes me terrified for my future and other students like me.”
“Honestly given past stories and experiences of people within the LGBTQ+ community you would think that there would be some sort of written confirmation to ensure the integrity of the safety of everyone on campus,” self-identified LGBTQ ally Catherine Bright said. “I mean, I don’t want to be on a campus that I cannot feel free to express myself in any capacity truly without being subjected to discrimination, and by not allowing sexual orientation to fall under this umbrella, I think students may feel less safe to be themselves.”
“I wish more organizations actively stood against what was happening in the state,” said Markie Burgess, another LGBTQ-identifying student. “There’s only so much we can do to protect ourselves.”
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