By Eliel Cruz 1-05-2016

An influx of requests from Christian universities for the right to discriminate on the basis of gender identity have flooded the Department of Education. As many as sixty Christian schools have submitted requests for Title IX waivers since 2014, when the Department of Education announced their protections were inclusive of transgender students.

Before this clarification, only a handful of universities had asked for such waivers in the 40-plus years since Title IX was established in 1972. But the decision to extend protections to transgender students has prompted dozens of Christian schools request these waivers.

A request Biola University sent to the Department of Education states, in part, “… the Department is now interpreting Title IX’s ban on discrimination in education because of sex to also mean that educational institutions may not ‘discriminate’ on the basis of ‘gender identity’...”

The university’s letter cites the case of a trans male in another school district, which Biola University described as a “female student presenting herself as male to use the restroom, locker room, and living accommodations,” finding they “would not be able to make similar accommodations consistent with our religious beliefs.”

After the clarifying language to Title IX, Biola also updated their employee handbook to specify that “the adoption of a psychological identity discordant with one's birth sex” is immoral. Their website states that employees who fail to agree to with the school’s statements of faith will be dismissed.

When asked about this appeal, a representative from Biola’s communications department replied:

“If an employee selects 'Yes' or 'Yes, with reservations,' Biola will take this to mean the employee agrees or generally agrees with Biola’s position, though they may be processing some theological understandings. If an employee selects 'No,' it is not means for automatic job dismissal. The university will seek to understand the employee’s position and understanding of the theological distinctives by further discussion between the employee and their supervisor or human resources.”

The letters from the 60 other schools all argue, with varying language, that accepting a transgender student on their campus would violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Twenty-seven schools have been granted this right since 2014, with the rest of the schools awaiting decision.

Unfortunately, there is little to no understanding of transgender identities on the part of these institutions. A quick scan of these schools formal positions on trans identities reveals either a few short paragraphs that lack any theological or scientific backing, or an official stance missing entirely. The statements, positioned as authoritative, lack basic fundamental understandings of sexuality and gender. As such, these universities have no ground to deny transgender identities.

But these appeals for exemptions are not based in any kind of rationale. They’re not even based in Scripture. They are based in fear.

Scripture does not address trans identities. Unlike same-sex relationships, in which traditionalists have found a foothold on six verses mentioning same-sex sex, there is no such list of verses for trans identities. Instead, the very existence of intersex and transgender individuals disproves a long-held gendered complementary theology that is the basis for these requests to discriminate.

What is perhaps most disconcerting about these developments is that the schools formal requests to discriminate against LGBT students makes their campuses unsafe environments for current LGBT students. That's not to say that the average Christian school has been a model for how to be a safe campus for LGBT students — most schools lack any kind of formal outreach to their LGBT students that affirms them in their identities. Many Christian schools can even be hostile environments for LGBT students.

And queer students have had to find their own ways to navigate their campuses. Indeed, if a Christian campus focuses on safety for its LGBT students, more often than not, it is because LGBT students themselves have made it so.

Christian schools prioritizing the right to discriminate against LGBT students, instead of finding ways to accommodate them, sends a clear message that they are not welcome.

While some may counter that perhaps LGBT students should not attend Christian schools if they do not like the less than welcoming environment, many students don't have that option: Either they attend a Christian school or their parents don’t pay for college. Some are not out of the closet and would not be able to vocalize why they feel uncomfortable with the decision. Then there are some like me, who wanted a Christian education without having to face the added adversity of having their school intentionally discriminate against them.

These requests to discriminate go against the basic tenets of Christianity — one in which we are called to draw those in the margins in, not push them further out. That public schools, without any religious foundation to their policies, invite and protect LGBT students more than Christian schools should bring shame to any believer.

Where is Jesus in requesting to deny entry to LGBT students on our campuses? Where is Jesus in publicly denouncing queer children of God as “less than?” Christ is nowhere to be found in these actions. No, these actions aren’t based in any kind of religious beliefs drawn from Christ. These outright acts of discrimination are anti-LGBT animus, masked as “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Our Christian schools should be leading the way in modeling safe campuses for all who wish to attend. Any LGBT student who attends our schools should be affirmed, and accommodated, like any other student on campus. That is what we, as Christians, are called to do.

Eliel Cruz is a speaker and writer on religion and sexuality with five years of faith organizing experience on the intersections of faith, sexuality, and gender. 

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