Last May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order granting agencies and organizations — primarily those that receive taxpayer funding — exemptions when denying their services to LGBTQ people. The executive order’s logic: The constitutional right to religious freedom protects certain institutions and their refusal to serve LGBTQ Americans.
These are being called the “license to discriminate” bills. And they are doing just that. Just last month, the Virginia House of Delegates passed HB 2025, which would give taxpayer-funded agencies the opportunity to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of religion.
For a president who utilizes Twitter as a primary platform of political interaction with his constituents, it is startling that the trending hashtag #LicenseToDiscriminate did not incite governmental response, let alone concern.
Fortunately for LGBTQ students at USC, resources are abundant and, more importantly, accessible. Under the leadership of Director Rev. Kelby Harrison, the USC LGBT Resource Center’s staff — comprising professionals, graduate students and undergraduates — aims to provide students with various ways to engage with the University’s queer community. The Lavender Lounge, Queer/Trans People of Color Lounge and Sexual Orientation Support Group are few of many organizations through which students can find resources and communities.
Furthermore, the center’s bi-weekly newsletter presents students with some opportunities for careers and internships that specifically seek to hire queer individuals or advance LGBTQ causes. Such a resource proves to be invaluable, for it makes one message blatantly clear: There must be a place for all LGBTQ individuals in the academic realm and, for that matter, in all spaces.
On the national scale, it appears the fact that 47 percent of working LGBTQ Americans experience discrimination in the workplace is enough to prompt any government change. The fact that only 19 states explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation appears, too, to be inadequate.
To worsen the matter, many states have used Trump’s unsettling bill to create their own laws disenfranchising queer Americans. Tennessee, for instance, has enacted laws that exempt mental health counselors from being required to treat LGBTQ patients on the basis of these counselors’ religious beliefs. Meanwhile, in seven other states, child welfare agencies are legally exempted from having to accept child adoption requests submitted by queer couples, or from placing foster children in these couples’ homes.
However, do not be fooled by the word “exemption” — in these egregious examples, the word “exemption” signifies nothing other than discrimination.
When it comes to freedom of religion, there is a belief-action standard that must be applied. Indeed, constitutional safeguards exist to secure citizens’ rights to free religious belief and exercise thereof; they do not exist, however, to be weaponized by the government, or to be used by citizens as justification for violating the law or disenfranchising certain demographics.
At the college level, campuses have a duty to provide services and create spaces that champion inclusion. In a nation where the mere existence of LGBTQ individuals seems to be at odds with the religious beliefs of a majority, colleges must support and defend their queer students.
In comparison to other institutions of higher education, USC is doing relatively well when it comes to LGBTQ support. Yet this is not to suggest that the standard has been set high. Consider, for instance, the fact that LGBTQ college students are four times more likely to experience depression or contemplate suicide than their cisgender or heterosexual counterparts.
Something is not right. Queer people still feel excluded, silenced by surrounding communities that are reluctant to invite them to join greater conversations.
To be living within a queer body, then, is to be surviving and fighting for an equal stake in society.
While USC has served in some ways as a haven for LGBTQ students, this sort of support must extend beyond the university sphere. Other institutions, namely states and federal legislatures, must recognize when the right to religion is misused by some as a means of defending discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. They must recognize that, in a world where there exists constant assaults — both physical and otherwise — on individuals’ identities, LGBTQ people need extra protection. Mere acknowledgement of this issue is a start, but is nowhere near enough.