Confronting discrimination at religious schools

As schools around the country surge for Title IX exemptions, students who pay high tuition refuse to let the legalized discrimination slide. Title IX prohibits schools from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Many Christian schools would like to be exempt from this code because it goes against school policy and supposedly also their religious beliefs. Since the mad rush for Title IX exemptions, schools have begun to change their student policies to include words like “genetic male” or “genetic female” to especially exclude transgender and gender-nonconforming people. 

The numbers are only climbing, with as many as 60 Christian schools having submitted requests to the Justice Department. The changes, although they are often done behind closed doors, are not going unnoticed. Protests have erupted at Biola University, Oklahoma Baptist and the like with students and alumni bringing awareness to the changes being applied by administrators. They are tired of the culture of fear fostered by these schools that keep students from coming out prior to graduation. In previous years, schools with no tolerance for LGBT students and staff have withheld final transcripts, denied residency in the dormitories, expelled students for minor misdemeanors and the list goes on.

The pushback is going even further than single-campus protests. Campuses around the country are banding together and organizing on social media to include press and bring much-needed awareness to the heightened tactics of discrimination. In December, students who belong to Campus Pride produced a #ShameList urging the NAACP to stop supporting schools that file for the exemption. This list names each institution that has requested Title IX exemptions to date, which Campus Pride calls “religious-based bigotry.” Campus Pride director Shane Windmeyer called out the role the Justice Department is playing in the situation: “No student should fear for their safety in higher education — and no college should be allowed to openly discriminate against youth using religion-based bigotry. Taxpayer dollars are being used to sanction discrimination toward LGBTQ youth. This is harmful to these young people. It is shameful and wrong.” 

Similarly, students have risen up under a common hashtag through Soulforce demanding schools #GiveBackIX. On April 9, students tweeted “#GiveBackIX matters to me because my body is for running, not dictating gender.” They continue to call out the inconsistencies of the NCAA who earlier this month urged North Carolina to end discrimination. One tweet reads, “57 Colleges in the NCAA are seeking exemption from Title IX provisions protecting LGBTQ students. End the bigotry #ShameList #GiveBackIX.”

Conservative right wingers are moving forward in favor of discrimination with military-like prowess. They are trying their damnedest to protect their schools, bakeries and bathrooms from the likes of us. It will take more than aggravated student bodies to stand up for this kind of social violence. If we individually cannot see how the bathroom bills being passed in Southern states and the Title IX exemptions are connected, then we aren’t really paying attention. Their handiwork reminds me of a world Margaret Atwood only dreamed of in her dystopian novel “The Handmaids Tale,” where overnight a totalitarian Christian theocracy took hold of the United States.

Maria Alekhina, or “Masha” of Pussy Riot, said it best: “It’s a very short way from joke to sad reality,” referring to Russia post-Putin’s election. “Everybody was joking about it. And nobody could imagine that after five, six years, we would have a war in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea and these problems in Syria.”

It seems far-fetched but we can’t really leave this corner of the fight to the students, can we? #ShameList #GiveBackIX 

Crystal Cheatham is a writer and activist in Philadelphia. She chairs the Spirituality & Religion steering committee for the Human Rights Campaign, volunteers with Equality Pennsylvania and William Way LGBT Community Center’s Out & Faithful Committee and has written for the Huffington Post. You can find out more about her at

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