Lara Bill Would Protect LGBTQ Students Against Discrimination at Private Universities

April 06, 2016

SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) announced legislation to close a loophole that allows private universities to discriminate against students and staff based on their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Senate Bill 1146 would require universities who are granted a Title IX exemption to disclose that information to the California Student Aid Commission and disseminate the information to students and staff. The bill would also allow an individual that has encountered discrimination at a school claiming a Title IX exemption to pursue a remedy through a civil action. SB1146 cleared the Senate Education Committee this morning. 

“All students deserve to feel safe in institutions of higher education, regardless of whether they are public or private,” said Senator Lara. “California has established strong protections for the LGBTQ community and private universities should not be able to use faith as an excuse to discriminate and avoid complying with state laws. No university should have a license to discriminate.”

At the federal level, Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and gender nonconformity in education programs and activities that receive any federal funding.  However, there is a little known loophole that private universities use to avoid complying with Title IX. If a university believes compliance with Title IX would conflict with their values they may submit an exemption request to the U.S. Department of Education. The Department has very little discretion and most requests are granted. 

Over the last three years there has been a significant uptick in the number of universities who apply and receive an exemption to Title IX. Only one school was granted an exemption in 2013. Today there are at least 43 schools that have received an exemption nationally. There are at least six schools in California that currently have an exemption.  Currently, the universities that receive Title IX exemptions do not have to disclose their status to students or staff. Many students are completely unaware of the exemption and what the potential consequences would be in the event their sexual orientation or gender identity did not align with the universities values. Students and staff across the country have reported finding out about the exemption, only after being expelled from school or fired from their job.

Recently at a university in southern California, a student took a leave of absence and during his time away came out as gay on social media. When it was time to return to school, the university did not want to readmit him. Transgender students have also reported being denied access to gender appropriate housing and some have been expelled as a result of their revealing their gender identity. Currently these students and staff have no recourse. 

The bill is supported by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Equality California and the Transgender Law Center.  

"The Los Angeles LGBT Center is proud to support SB 1146, to prevent discrimination in higher education. Students and staff have a right to know when their school requests a license to discriminate against the LGBT community. This bill will protect LGBT people who work and study at private universities and will allow all Californians be more informed,” said Dave Garcia, Director of Policy and Community Building at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

"Prospective students have a right to know if a university they are considering attending discriminates against LGBT people," said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California.  "This bill would let any school seeking to skirt federal anti-discrimination protections know that its policies would be public, and that anyone discriminated against would have legal recourse."