Texas A&M Student Body President Nixes Religious Exemption to Student Fees

Religious students at Texas A&M University have spent the last few weeks coming up with creative ways to scare off GLBT students once and for all. Earlier this month, they nearly succeeded.

As a sneaky way to eliminate any and all support for gay life on campus, some students authored a measure that would allow anyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to opt out of paying the portion of their student fees allotted toward the school’s GLBT Resource Center, used by more than a thousand Aggies each semester.

Of course, the bill’s language was altered at the last minute to make it appear less discriminatory and more oriented toward “religious freedom.”

For weeks, the student-led bill had been aimed at defunding the Texas A&M GLBT center, but approximately 24 hours before the final vote, the “GLBT Funding Opt Out Bill” became “The Religious Funding Exemption Bill.” Its scope was broadened, and it did not specifically mention GLBT services.

Last week, following hours of intense debate, the school’s student senate voted 35-28 to approve the measure. As the votes were counted, reported The Eagle, some students and senators cursed or stormed out of the room, and the woman tallying the votes started crying.

A student holds up a sign opposing the Religious Funding Exemption Bill (Stuart Villanueva – The Eagle)

Student Andrew Lupo, who identified as openly gay, spoke against the bill.

“The Religious Funding Exemption bill is a facade to deprive GLBT students of resources to create a safe environment,” Lupo said to the senators. “I see so many of you, you’re young — 18 and 19 years old– and there is a great future for you. Is this how you want to begin your career — by attacking your own Aggies, your own community?”

Student Aaron Ackerman disagreed and compared forcing students to pay for the GLBT center to forcing doctors to perform partial-birth abortions.

“Our decision here is not going to reach that far,” Ackerman said. “I just want to show how dangerous a philosophy is that some organization, government or otherwise, can make a person do what is against their most deeply held beliefs.”

There’s some good news, though, because student body president John Claybrook intervened. On Friday, Claybrook vetoed the bill, announcing he did not support its divisive nature and the harmful way in which it portrayed Texas A&M across the nation. The student senate responded that they would not seek to override his veto, so the legislation is essentially dead:

“The damage must stop today,” Claybrook wrote in a letter announcing his intention to veto. “Texas A&M students represent our core value of respect exceptionally and I’m very proud of the family at this university. Now, more than ever, is the time to show great resolve and come together, treating each other like the family that we are.

University President R. Bowen Loftin hadn’t commented on the matter until Friday, when he released a statement that didn’t side with either group, but instead reiterated the school’s commitment to respect and community:

“Although differences of opinion in an institution committed to education are normal, if not intrinsic, we must commit ourselves to the highest standards of communication, expecting, and even seeking, to have our beliefs and ideas challenged in respectful and constructive ways,” Loftin said.

We should be furious and perhaps frightened that students not only supported, but wrote a measure intended to demean and humiliate their peers — and that the measure nearly passed. It’s a measure that could theoretically have allowed students to “opt out” of funding atheist groups, politically unpopular groups, and any number of groups they didn’t agree with for religious reasons. Texas A&M has light-years to go before it catches up to other educational institutions in the country in terms of acceptance, diversity, and general common sense. And if a deliberately discriminatory measure could gain this much support in so little time, I’m not very confident it’ll get there anytime soon.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.


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