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Department of Education Answers HRC’s Call for Greater Transparency On Anti-LGBT Religious Exemption

by Stephen Peters January 20, 2016

Today, HRC praised a decision from the U.S. Department of Education to publish a searchable database in the coming months of educational institutions who have sought and/or received an exemption from federal civil rights law in order to discriminate against LGBT students. To help increase transparency and accountability, HRC called on the Department of Education in December to take action in light of this growing and disturbing trend by some religious colleges and universities.

“We have been alarmed by the growing trend of schools quietly seeking the right to discriminate against LGBT students, and not disclosing that information publicly,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. "We are encouraged that the Department of Education is answering our call for greater transparency to help ensure no student unknowingly enrolls in a school that intends to discriminate against them. We believe that religious liberty is a bedrock principle of our nation, however, faith should never be used as a guise for discrimination."

HRC first called on the Department of Education to take action in a comprehensive report released in December called Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk. In the report, HRC spotlighted 56 colleges and universities based in 26 states across every region of the country – which collectively have nearly 120,000 students - that have requested religious exemptions under Title IX since 2013. These institutions have utilized a little-known provision in the law that allows educational institutions controlled by a religious organization to request an exemption from full compliance with the law if “application of the law would conflict with specific tenets of the religion.” Specifically, HRC called on:

  • The Department of Education to require schools to publish comprehensive information about the scope of the exemption they received and the way in which Title IX still protects students;
  • The Department of Education to regularly report which educational institutions have been granted Title IX religious exemptions, the scope of those exemptions, and ensure the information is provided on the individual schools’ landing page as part of College Navigator; and
  • Congress to amend the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) governing statute to require OCR to annually report the number of Title IX exemptions that were requested, granted, and denied. LGBT students face discrimination and harassment at an alarming rate.

While the Department of Education has little discretion to deny these requests for exemptions, religiously controlled educational institutions should not be exempt from full transparency.

According to a 2010 study, lesbian, gay, and bisexual college students are nearly twice as likely to experience harassment when compared with their non-LGB peers, and are seven times more likely to indicate the harassment was based on their sexual orientation. In the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, one-fifth of transgender students reported that they were denied gender-appropriate housing, and five percent reported outright denial of campus housing. LGBT college students also suffer from higher rates of sexual assault and misconduct on America’s campuses; transgender and gender nonconforming students report one of the highest rates of sexual assault and misconduct.

Stephen Peters
Stephen Peters


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