Governor signs bill to protect LGBT students against discrimination at private universities

Ricardo Lara

Ricardo Lara

California Gov. Jerry Brown Friday signed Senate Bill (SB) 1146, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and sponsored by Equality California. The bill requires private universities receiving public funds to publicly disclose if they discriminate against students with respect to gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Senate Bill 1146 requires universities that are granted a Title IX exemption to notify the California Student Aid Commission and disseminate the information to students and staff.

“No university should have a license to discriminate, especially those receiving state funds,” said Sen. Lara. “Those that do will now have to inform incoming students of their Title 9 exemption. This law represents a critical first step in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.”

At the federal level, Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender, including sexual orientation and gender identity, in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. However, if a university believes compliance with Title IX would conflict with its religion it may submit an exemption request to the U.S. Department of Education. The department has very little discretion and most requests are granted.

Many students are unaware of the exemption and what the potential consequences might be in the event their sexual orientation or gender identity does not align with the university’s discriminatory policies. Students and staff across the country have reported learning of an exemption only after being expelled from school or fired from their jobs. Over the last three years there has been a significant increase in the number of universities that apply for and receive an exemption to Title IX. Only one school was granted an exemption in 2013. Today, some 43 schools nationally have received exemptions, with at least six of them in California.  Currently, universities that have Title IX exemptions do not have to disclose them to students or staff.

“The public needs to know which schools have licenses to discriminate against LGBT people and to ignore California’s civil rights protections,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “This law will give fair warning to students, staff and faculty members before they accept enrollment or employment at a university with a license to discriminate.”

Right-wing opponents fought fiercely against the bill, which they claimed was an attack on religious freedom. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for their campaign and bombarded lawmakers with phone calls, emails and in-person, often-hostile protests.

“What opponents of this bill try to hide from the public and the press is that SB 1146 applies only to private colleges that use taxpayer dollars,” said Zbur. “It is the longstanding policy and law of the state of California that state taxpayer dollars cannot be used to discriminate against LGBT people. If these colleges and universities want to continue to discriminate against LGBT students and employees, with cruel and harsh consequences for their lives, they should not expect California taxpayers to fund it.”

SB 1146 takes effect January 1, 2017.