From expulsions to inclusion

A year after the UM system Board of Curators added sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy, proponents say the clause had laid the foundation for further acceptance.

The inclusion of sexual orientation in the UM system's non-discrimination policy last year was only one of many battles. On Oct. 16, 2003, the UM system Board of Curators added a sexual-orientation clause to the policy, which already included race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability and Vietnam veteran status.

Until 1978, the UM system made efforts to curtail the presence of homosexuals on its campuses.

As late as 1949, a committee on campus discipline had authority to investigate, expel or require psychiatric evaluations of students the committee suspected to be homosexual. During the '70s, the Gay Liberation Federation tried to register as an official campus organization. Although the group student government approval, the dean of student affairs refused the request. Seven years later, after involvement from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Gay Liberation Federation was allowed to meet on campus.

The beginning

Nearly 20 years later, the battle to include sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policy sparked again.

With support from then-Chancellor Haskell Monroe, the MU Minority Affairs Committee passed a resolution to include sexual orientation in the campus non-discrimination statement in the late 1980s. During the mid-1990s, UM system administrators re-evaluated the system-wide grievance policy, modeling a new non-discrimination policy after MU's policy.

Due to grumbling from Missouri lawmakers, the Board of Curators removed sexual orientation from the policy in 1995.

In the fall of 1995, students, staff members and faculty from all campuses formed the UM Non-discrimination Task Force, which lobbied for the inclusion of sexual orientation into the system-wide policy.

The team passed separate resolutions in support of inclusion and testified in front of the UM system Board of Curators.

In 1997, the Intercampus Faculty Council forwarded a resolution petitioning for the inclusion of sexual orientation to the UM system's grievance policy. The resolution was later changed into a more generalized statement, calling for the maintenance of a positive educational and working environment. This mandate was not highly publicized and is listed in the Collected Rules of the University of Missouri as policy.

Last October, the fight for inclusion ended when the Board of Curators unanimously voted to include a sexual-orientation clause in the UM system's non-discrimination policy.

UM system spokesman Joe Moore said though he was not aware of any instances of discrimination on the basis of sexual-orientation, last year was the ideal time to instate the clause.

"The issue had come up within certain groups almost annually, and so the board decided it was time to move forward," he said.

Moore said around the same time last year, the policies of 87 public doctoral-research universities mentioned sexual orientation. This included nine of the Big 12 universities.

"We have felt that people have been protected from discrimination of any kind," Moore said. "We believe adding sexual orientation as a protected category has given additional

reassurance."

The intangibles

Adam Brigham, coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center said although no concrete effects of the sexual orientation clause might be noticeable, students across all categories "can have a more genuine experience."

"I think it's necessary," said Brigham, "It's really vital."

During past years, Brigham has worked to raise awareness and open the lines of communication at the resource center and among students.

"The hardest part, in any situation, is not knowing what the repercussions will be," he said.

Brigham said much of the benefit from the inclusion of the sexual orientation clause is intangible.

"It allows for a greater sense of integrity within the community," he said.

Real results

Former Missouri Students Association Vice President Christine Morris said the clause helps impart legal protection against hate crimes. Because hate crimes are prosecuted based upon the criteria set in the non-discrimination policy, before the inclusion, members of the LGBT community had no legal protection if a crime was committed against them on the basis of their sexual orientation. Thus, inclusion was important for legal reasons and for maintaining a fair social and political climate on campus, she said.

Including sexual orientation had arisen as an issue in 2000, Morris' freshman year. She said she worked largely as a liaison between students and administrators and acted as a student figurehead for the initiative. Morris also worked with other campus leaders to put together a coalition of students, faculty and staff across all four UM system campuses to lobby the Board of Curators.

"It was difficult for us to have administrators and curators to back us because of the controversial nature," Morris said.

Morris also lobbied for inclusion of sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policies of the College of Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine. These schools were the last two colleges at MU to pass non-discrimination statements, in February of 2002 and September of 2002 respectively.

"It's really sort of been a long process," Morris said. "Before we went to the curators, we had to make sure the whole school was united."

Junior LGBT Resource Center staff member Meagan Young said her work to raise awareness in the LGBT Resource Center and across MU about the issue was a "grassroots" effort. She also has campaigned at Speaker's Circle, handing out fliers and collecting signatures.

"There's no way to measure its impacts," Young said. "It's just words on a piece of paper. But it's laid a foundation for us to feel comfortable with our identities and for us to feel supported."

Although it might seem the clause only affects one group of people, Young said it has an impact on everyone.

"Our argument was that everyone has a sexual orientation," she said. "We're not a special group. Everyone has their own positions."

Sophomore LGBT staff member Mandi Kenuam said many people who oppose the clause do so because they believe sexual orientation is a choice, but fail to consider that religion is protected and is a choice.

Young said the clause gives publicity to a problem.

"I wanted (the clause) to be passed because homophobia is persistent in our community," Young said. "It doesn't stop anything, but it represents that homophobia is a problem."

Looking to the future

Kenuam said that the clause has "laid a foundation for further acceptance."

Kenuam and Young both said that for many prospective students, the inclusion of sexual orientation in the non-discrimination policy, and the existence of an LGBT Resource Center are important and can be a deciding factor when choosing a college. Kenuam said she looked into these aspects when applying to universities.

Junior Amanda Hall was surprised when she had first realized MU did not have a sexual-orientation clause, even though her high school alma mater, Hickman High School, did.

"It was strange because it was like a step backward," she said.

"It just makes me feel more comfortable to know I'm at a place where I'm protected," Hall said.

Inclusion came with "a lot of anti-gay backlash within the state," Young said. After the clause was incorporated, Missouri legislators considered passing House Bill 885, which would prohibit any public institution from receiving funds if their non-discrimination policies extended beyond the protections under federal law. However, the bill died in session.

Regardless of opposition, proponents of the inclusion said the incorporation of sexual orientation as a protected category has paved the way for needed support and protection within the community.

"It's one step of many steps," Young said.

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