Friday, April 26, 2013

HB 360: Legalizing Discrimination in Texas Universities

             Recently, Representative Matt Krause (R - Ft. Worth) put forth HB 360 that would remove funding from universities who required their student organizations to have an “all-comers” policy. This would essentially require public support of racist, sexist, and homophobic organizations. This horrible, dreaded “all-comers” policy would simply mean that student organizations are not allowed to discriminate against students or deny membership based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, among other factors. So actually, this “all-comers” policy sounds like a pretty good thing, right? So why would Krause want to force universities to remove it?
            Simple. Freedom of religion. Confused? Yeah, me too! Don’t worry, Representative Krause explains it to us. According to Krause, Christian organizations in particular have been under attack and forced to open the organization to anyone who wants to join or lose their university recognition and state-funded benefits. So Krause is asking for special rights for religious organizations that would exempt them from this policy and instead allow them to deny membership based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. So there’s a rule, that everyone follows, that promotes fairness, and Representative Krause doesn’t think it’s fair that religious groups should have to follow it, because they want to keep LGBTQ people, women, and people of color out of their organizations.
            So you’re not confused anymore, you’re just pissed off? Right. Me too. That’s why I went to the Texas Capitol last week to testify against HB 360, which clearly penalizes universities for prohibiting discrimination. As a student organization leader at UT Austin, I understand the value that discourse between people of diverse backgrounds brings to the table; some of the most riveting discussions have been a result of this diversity. Furthermore, I have seen the discrimination that LGBTQ people, women, and people of color face every single day on our campus and this bill would only serve to justify and uphold that poor treatment. Plus, UT has almost 100 religious student organizations operating just fine under UT’s current “all-comers” policy that are perfectly able to meet, discuss their ideas, recruit new members, and elect like-minded leadership for the organization.
            When talking about discrimination at my school, discrimination against Christian groups is the last thing to come to mind. I think of queer people who face social alienation, slurs, stares, and harsh treatment daily. I am reminded that Trans* people struggle to find a place to use the bathroom where they feel safe, along with being misgendered and mistreated. I remember the many, many times I have heard that people of color are either stupid athletes, or they don’t deserve to attend our school, without even considering the possibility that they are just as smart, or even smarter than the white person speaking. I cringe at the sexism that plays out every day as women are excluded from opportunities just because they’re women, along with constant belittling reminders that we’re “cute, not smart.” My heart aches for Muslim Longhorns who are constantly vigilant and endure Islamophobic remarks. I don’t think we need to legalize any more discrimination against these groups on our campus who already face too much discrimination.
            After a few friends and I testified, all with slightly different viewpoints but all opposing the bill, Representative Krause came up to talk to us. He said that the bill was never intended to be discriminatory (seriously, have you read the original text that has your name on it, sir?) and that the new language (provided in a committee substitute that was not made available to the public) should fix our concerns. As it turns out, the new language just opens up the table for everyone to discriminate by removing the need for a religious exemption, schools would still lose all of their state funding if they required student organizations to allow student participation regardless of status or beliefs. Essentially, the new language fulfills the same purpose of the original language (allowing Christian organizations to exclude women and LGBTQ people, specifically) but looks less blatantly homophobic, sexist, and racist.
            It has been about a week since we testified in the House Higher Education Committee against HB 360, and the bill has been left pending in the committee for now. In the event that it does pass into law, Representative Donna Howard, (D – Austin), said the bill could put institutions in conflict with federal law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, color or origin.

1 comment:

  1. I was at that hearing and heard you testify. You and your colleagues did a FANTASTIC job and represented your cause and your institutions well. I am heartened that the bill is still pending in committee. Even if it dies quietly during this session, I suspect we'll see it come back in the 84th, perhaps with the funding issue altered. If that happens, I predict it will easily move through the committee, unless membership changes dramatically.