Student leaders at Texas A&M have proposed a measure to allow students to opt out of paying a portion of student fees to fund the campus' GLBT Resource Center, renewing anger about apparent discrimination on the traditionally conservative campus.
The A&M Student Senate bill proposed last week would allow "students who object, for religious purposes, to the use of their student fees and tuition to fund this center to opt out of paying an amount equal to their share of the Center's funding from their fee and tuition bills."
The bill was proposed last week and is on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting. GLBT student leaders say there will be an open forum on campus April 3 at 7 p.m. where students and community members will be able to give public comment on this issue to the Student Senate.
Supporters in the student leadership argue that students have the religious right to opt out of the student fees, but GLBT students on campus called it "a direct and blatant attack," according to a statement from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Aggies.
The GLBT Resource Center on campus, which opened in 2007 and received some funding from student fees, is "a referral center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Aggies and their straight supporters." It aims to educate the campus about GLBT issues and to collaborate with student organizations, campus departments and the community to provide students with access to resources, activities and support services, according to its website.
The bill states in part that "Many students disagree with the use of student fee and tuition money to pay for a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (GLBT) Resource Center for religious reasons ... While it can be argued that the GLBT Resource Center is a worthy use of funds in order to provide a welcoming environment for vulnerable populations at Texas A&M, it is reasonable for students to object to a use of their own money that is in direct opposition to their own religious values."
The bill's author did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A similar effort arose in 2011 among not only student leaders, but also in the Texas Legislature. In 2011, the A&M Senate and a state representative filed concurrent bills that "require GLBT resource centers to provide matching funds to traditional sexual education" and asked the university "that such funding not be acquired through increased student fees." The student's bill was vetoed by the student body president at the time.
The budget provision by Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, pinpointed centers dedicated to GLBT students. It was adopted as an amendment and required state colleges and universities, if they use state funds to support "a gender and sexuality center," to spend an equal amount on a center promoting "family and traditional values."
The roots of this current battle brewing on campus go back to 1976, when the A&M gay student organization won a Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision and student leaders fought against the administration to be officially recognized by A&M as a student organization.
Despite having this resource center and a university-recognized student organization supporting GLBT students, the College Station campus has earned a bad reputation for being friendly to gay students. In 2011 and 2012, the Princeton Review ranked Texas A&M as one of the least-friendly campuses for GLBT students.
"We are still in the process of fighting to exist and be positively acknowledged at Texas A&M," the GLBT Aggies said in a statement released this week. "While [the bill] claims to promote religious freedom, we cannot ignore that it only allows students with one religious belief to control how their student fees are used: only religious traditions that disapprove of LGBT interests are given a voice ... Whatever the intentions of the bill may be, its effect is clearly discriminatory."
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