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50 years after Title IX passed, LGBTQ+ students still seek protections at private universities

Jamie Lord graduated from Regent University School of Law in May. Originally from South Carolina, she had never heard of the private Christian University of Virginia Beach – until she received an offer from the school with a large financial scholarship, based solely on her test score admission to law school.

“The school was definitely conservative, and I’m from the South, so I’m used to that kind of lifestyle,” the 24-year-old graduate recently told VPM News. “It wasn’t something shocking to me, but it’s a beautiful campus – a beautiful school – with terrible people inside.”

She had heard of Pat Robertson, the Christian television evangelist and CEO of Regent University. But she had the feeling that he was not closely involved in campus life or studies. Lord had a positive impression of the campus when he arrived in August 2019, but the sense of safety and comfort quickly faded.

“A certain group of my friends knew I was gay, but it was more like, ‘You don’t tell anyone.’ And they were even scared of being associated with me if it came out that I was gay,” Lord said.

The first year of the Lord

During her freshman year at Regent, Lord said a teacher, who knew she was gay, spoke during class about LGBTQ+ people as child molesters, pedophiles and undeserving of marriage. . She was mortified. So she went to the Dean, who, Lord says, ordered her to speak to the professor about her concerns.

“Actually, I took the Dean’s advice. I went there and specifically talked to the teacher about what was going on. And that teacher immediately shut me up,” Lord said. “He told me his own brother was gay and he didn’t accept ‘the lifestyle’ and if I prayed hard enough that I could be straight, I was just confused and destined for it. hell.”

For the rest of his class, Lord said the teacher continued to make derogatory comments and referred to LGBTQ+ people as “gay”, despite his repeated objections.

Regent University declined to comment on Lord’s allegations, including whether the professor in question had been disciplined for his comments.

“Federal privacy laws, including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), prevent us from sharing specific student information. It is important to understand that in As a private Christian university, Regent upholds biblical values ​​and teaches traditional Christian principles.When enrolling at Regent, each student must sign a document pledging to fully accept the [Standards of Conduct for Students], which specifically states that conduct that violates biblical standards is prohibited. At the same time, as followers of Christ, Regent staff and faculty are committed to treating every student with love, dignity and respect. Regent strives to provide a safe and secure academic environment, to fulfill its obligation to prevent incidents of sexual harassment and assault, and to deal with complaints effectively and efficiently.

The law school’s non-discrimination policy prohibits “discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, or veteran or disabled veteran status. and claims not to discriminate “solely on the basis of an individual’s self-reported sexual identity.” orientation, but only with regard to the accompaniment of sexual behavior or other actions that undermine the Christian character of the university.

According to the student handbook, the university explicitly prohibits “homosexual conduct” and stresses the importance of “heterosexual marriage as the God-desired context for full sexual expression to occur.”

Lord, who said another administrator told her she was risking her scholarship by being openly gay in college, eventually agreed to complete her degree exclusively on Zoom.

Robertson Hall is home to Regent University Law School. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Title IX Complaint Procedure

It wasn’t until her second year of law school that she learned about the Title IX complaints process. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Last June, the US Department of Education confirmed that Title IX also protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Anyone can file a Title IX complaint with the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights. But the office also encourages people who want to make a formal complaint to first try to resolve the issue through the institution’s internal grievance process. Lord said she was not interested in complaining to the same administrators she believed had refused to take action to end what she perceived to be discriminatory behavior.

One day, while browsing Facebook, Lord came across an ad for the Religious Exemption Liability Project. The organization is representing dozens of LGBTQ+ students in a lawsuit filed in March 2021 challenging discrimination at religious colleges across the country that receive federal funding.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, this is exactly what I’m going through,'” Lord recalled.

She emailed the organization and quickly added her name to the class action, joining two students from Liberty University in Virginia. REAP’s attorney filed a Title IX complaint with the federal government on Lord’s behalf.

Paul Southwick, director and lead attorney at REAP, said the lawsuit began as a way to empower queer, trans and non-binary students who attended private religious schools.

Many of these schools receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding in the form of student aid, grants, and loans for the construction and repair of on-campus facilities. Regent, for example, received $116,251,145 in 2019, the vast majority of which was used for student aid. But religious schools like Regent have the right to claim an exemption from any part of Title IX.

“It’s basically carte blanche to discriminate as long as they can prove their religious principles conflict with Title IX,” Southwick said.

Southwick’s lawsuit asserts that the exemptions are unconstitutional and that an extension of these exemptions during the Trump era violates the Administrative Procedures Act. The attorney asked the court to order the US Department of Education not to dismiss pending Title IX complaints based on religious exemptions.

Currently, Southwick said, the federal government has agreed to open investigations in seven of the more than 40 cases REAP has filed for various plaintiffs.

“What has happened each time historically and what we anticipate will happen to these seven active investigations is that as soon as the school plays its religious exemption card, those investigations are dismissed,” said said Southwick. “It’s really a question of when do they want to play this card and when don’t they want to.”

Lord is now at home in South Carolina, busy with her pets and studying for the bar while her fiancée is deployed.

“My meemaw always told me, ‘No one can take an education away from you…and it’s very important to take it seriously and prepare for where you’re going,'” Lord said. But she told VPM News that a scholarship wasn’t worth her own sanity. “The things I went through at Regent made me wonder if I even wanted to be a lawyer.”

Read another story marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX.