Inside Higher Ed: Equal time for ‘traditional values’

By Scott Jaschik, for Inside Higher Ed

April 26, 2011

The Texas House of Representatives has passed a budget bill that would require any public college with a student centre on “alternative” sexuality to provide equal funding to create new centres to promote “traditional values”.

While the Senate has yet to adopt a version of the budget bill, the inclusion of the measure in the overall budget bill and the dominance of social conservatives in Texas politics means that the measure could well be enacted. The House vote in favour of the amendment on the campus sexuality centres was 110:24.

Many Texas public colleges – as is the case at many colleges elsewhere – have centres within student affairs departments that serve gay and lesbian students. These centres sponsor programming, refer students who need counselling or support groups, and serve as advocates for gay and lesbian students on their campuses.

Representative Wayne Christian, a Republican, proposed the amendment, which would apply to any public colleges with a centre “for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or other gender identity issues”. According to The Dallas Morning News, lawmakers “cracked jokes and guffawed” during debate, with one representative asking Christian what “pansexual” means. Christian urged the lawmaker to visit the centres at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University to find out.

Lawmakers supporting the bill have said that they favour only equal time for all kinds of sexuality.

But the Young Conservatives of Texas, a group that worked with Christian on the legislation, did so with the hope that public colleges would respond to a law, if the bill passes, by ending support for existing centres. Tony McDonald, senior vice chairman of the group and a law student at UT Austin, said in an interview that “we could try to get these groups defunded” in a law, but that the equal funding approach was viewed as more likely to pass (perhaps with the same impact).

McDonald said that he doesn’t believe that universities should be funding centres on any sexuality or values – traditional or otherwise. He said that students “who want to promote a homosexual lifestyle” can do so “on their own time and with their own money”.

Requiring the creation of traditional values centres would “give the Left a taste of its own medicine”, he said. He charged that these centres “are encouraging folks who consider themselves homosexuals to go on considering themselves as such. That’s the point of the centres, and that’s not something Texas taxpayers should spend their money on.”

While supporters of the centres have said that they are needed to provide support for students who are in a minority on campus, McDonald said that it is actually traditional students who lack power. “If I were to walk through UT law school with a shirt on that said, ‘Homosexuality is immoral’, if I were to do that, there would be an uproar. People would be upset, and it would be considered out of place and not acceptable to do that. I’d probably get a talking-to. But if you go through campus to promote homosexuality, that is the norm.”

While McDonald said he hoped that, if the bill is enacted, public colleges would eliminate existing sexuality centres, he said that there are good programmes that could be sponsored by a traditional values centre. He said that they might offer programmes to encourage chastity or marriage between male and female students, for example.

The budget measure is prompting derision from Texas liberals. A column in The Texas Observer began this way: “Imagine the plight of the heterosexual student stepping on to a college campus for the first time. How will he fit in? Should he tell his new roommate about his alternative hetero lifestyle? Will he be bullied, just like he was in high school, where he was mercilessly teased for being a sexual deviant? Where does a straight person turn?”

While centres in Texas await the outcome of the budget bill, the debate has already accelerated at Texas A&M University, where the leadership of the Student Senate is pushing the university to go on record by saying that it would not increase student fees to create traditional values centres, but would cut the existing Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center in half to finance a new centre. In debate over the issue, advocates for traditional values centres said that straight students who may be questioning their sexuality need a centre just as much as gay students do. Students said it was important to create “an equal playing field” for those who may disagree with the gay centre. (The discussion may be viewed here, starting about 1 hour and 45 minutes into the meeting.)

Lowell Kane, programme coordinator for the gay centre at Texas A&M, said that he could not comment on the state legislation. But he said it was hard for him to accept the idea that gay students somehow have it better than their straight counterparts because of the centre at Texas A&M or elsewhere. He noted that in various surveys of gay students about how welcoming the university is, Texas A&M does not do well.

“I’m sure that there are instances where an individual heterosexual person might feel oppressed,” he said, “and that’s wrong.” But it's also not the norm, he added. “What we are talking about is the difference between an individual instance and societal homophobia.”

“If you walk into any campus classroom or student health service, most of what you find is geared toward a heterosexual population and not a GLBT population,” Kane said. Noting the suicide last year of Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, Kane said, “I have never heard of any student who took their life because their college roommate outed them as being a heterosexual student.”

And turning to comments from students at Texas A&M, he added, “I have never had a student complain that someone comes up and out of the blue calls them a ‘hetero’ and slaps them, but that happens to my students, who are called ‘dyke’ and ‘fag’.”

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