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LGBTQ Students, Activists Sue Department of Education for Giving Title IX Funds to Religious Colleges

— March 31, 2021

A group of LGBTQ activists have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the agency disburses federal funds to colleges with discriminatory policies.

According to The Greenville News, the lawsuit states that Title IX policy strictly prohibits educational institutions from discriminating against anyone on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. However, Title IX offers some schools a loophole, allowing them to implement more selective admissions policies under the guise of religious exemption.

The lawsuit, says NBC News, was filed by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project on behalf of several dozen LGBTQ students and activists, some of whom say they were emotionally traumatized by discriminatory practices at predominately Christian universities.

Lucas Wilson told NBC News that he chose to attend Liberty University, a Christian college, after seeing an advertisement for students “struggling with same-sex attraction.”

“The biggest factor in why I chose Liberty was ultimately the conversion therapy program because I, in fact, believed that one could become straight,” Wilson said.

For four years, Wilson received “conversion therapy” at Liberty University.

Since graduating, he’s come to see Liberty as a “thoroughly homophobic institution.” On top of conversion therapy, Liberty purportedly offered several different classes centered on the “evils of the homosexual lifestyle.”

Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.
Gavel resting on open book; image by verkeorg, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, no changes.

Going to conversion therapy, and being enveloped by Liberty’s oppressive atmosphere, “amplified and compounded feelings of self-hatred, feelings of shame and guilt and anxiety that ultimately took years to deconstruct.”

NBC News notes that many Christian colleges, like Liberty, are eligible for and receive federal funding because Title IX includes a clause excepting religious-oriented schools from its gender- and sexual orientation-based non-discrimination dictate.

However, Wilson and his co-plaintiffs now say that the religious exemption is unconstitutional, effectively permitting the Department of Education “to breach its duty” to LGBTQ students at institutions “where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is codified in campus policies and openly practiced.”

Paul Southwick, the director of REAP, said the lawsuit’s core argument is that the federal government is “not allowed to pass laws or take actions that target a politically unpopular group.”

“Here, what the religious exemption to Title IX is doing is, it really targets people based on sex, which includes sexual orientation and gender identity, for inferior treatment,” Southwick said.

Southwick observed that, although many people would question why LGBTQ students would choose to attend conservative, Christian colleges, many nonetheless have compelling reasons.

Many LGBTQ students, for instance, come from hardcore or fundamentalist Christian families.

“The natural consequence of that is that — gay or straight — a lot of them will end up at Christian colleges, and when they’re there, they’re treated inhumanely and subjected to these dangerous and abusive policies and practices,” Southwick said.

In response to news of the lawsuit, the Department of Education told the Greenville News that it plans to uphold President Joe Biden’s executive order guaranteeing “an educational environment free from discrimination,” including discrimination “on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”


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