On Wednesday, the student senate at Texas A&M passed the Religious Funding Exemption Bill, formerly known as the GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill, 35-28. Last week, student senator, Chris Woolsey, submitted the bill under its original name. The bill originally requested "that students who object to funding the GLBT Resource Center through their student fees and tuition for religious reasons be allowed to opt out." Additionally, the bill said, "Texas A&M University is a public institution, and as such, has an obligation to spend students' money in ways that reflect the values of the students who pay that money."
The university actually has no such obligation. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory student fees are constitutional as long as the distribution of monies is viewpoint-neutral. While, in their ruling, the justices permitted that, "if a university decided that its students' First Amendment interests were better protected by some type of optional or refund system it would be free to do so," they would not make it a constitutional requirement and went on to say that allowing students to opt out, "could be so disruptive and expensive that the program to support extracurricular speech would be ineffective."
Only 24 hours before the GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill was set to be voted on, the wording was changed. The bill now requests "that students who object to funding various services through their student fees and tuition for religious reasons be allowed to opt out." The vote came after three hours of heated debate and testimony with students almost exclusively opposed to the bill, according to The Eagle.
Thomas McNutt, a co-author of the bill, said during his testimony, "we came up with the new bill – the new bill that does not point out anyone. If you think this is pointing someone out, it is a fabrication in your head that you have created on your own."
But the connection between the two bills is obvious. They have exactly the same wording with the exception of replacing "GLBT resource center," with "many services." This is a very clear and calculated tactic to take funding from the important work the GLBT resource center is doing, and McNutt's allegation that any such connection is "a fabrication in your head" is laughable.
In 2012, Texas A&M was named one of the least LGBT-friendly public universities in the country by Princeton Review, which indicates a need for a resource center more than many universities. According to Woolsey, about $2 of each student's tuition goes to the resource center.
Woolsey has argued that since, "there is not a traditional family values center that will promote the opposite of what the GLBT promotes," students should be able to opt out. In reality, the center mainly supports students who may feel unsafe at A&M. This bill would be incredibly detrimental to the center, which this week is celebrating A&M's GLBT Awareness Week. On the same day that the student senate approved the bill, the GLBT center held a workshop on getting a job as part of the LGBT community.
The pressure is not just coming from on campus. On Monday, Texas Representative Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) filed a bill to cut state funding from universities that have "Gender and Sexuality Centers and related Student Center[s]." The amendment, known as the Zedler-1 Amendment, specifically says that, "An institution of higher education may not use money appropriated to the institution under [the Legislature's general appropriations bill] to support, promote or encourage any behavior that would lead to high risk behavior for AIDS, HIV, Hepatitis B, or any sexually transmitted diseases."
It is dangerous to implicate that LGBT centers promote high risk sexual behavior. Centers often provide information on safe sexual practices and their programs reach far beyond sex, providing support and guidance to people who have often been rejected from other parts of their community.
On Thursday, the Student Senate at another Texas university, the University of Houston, passed a "Resolution in Opposition to Texas Senate Bill 1 Amendment Zedler-1." The Resolution officially declares the student body's opposition to Zedler's amendment. One of the co-authors of the University's bill, James Lee, said the amendment, "would not only remove state funding for LGBT Resource Centers but would also eliminate state funding for women’s centers and all gender and sexuality centers at Texas universities.” Lee is the creator of the "Get Off My Backpack" campaign, which encourages people to sign a petition against the Zedler-1 Amendment.
Take Action Now!
Join GLAAD in encouraging the Texas A&M Student Body President, John Claybrook, to veto the bill. Tweet the following:
Also, join with fair-minded Texans in opposing Zedler's anti-LGBT amendment that will harm students.