By TIFFANY CREECY and JOSH COLLINS
In April 2011, Texas State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, proposed Amendment 143 to House Bill 1 — an amendment demanding that public universities that fund centers for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) students also provide an equal amount of funding for student centers that promote “traditional and family values.” The amendment passed 110-24. Though it is unclear whether the Texas Legislature will include the amendment in its final budget, its introduction has created unnecessarily hostile discourse about GLBT issues at Texas A&M University.
Christian’s amendment inspired a group of A&M student senators to author a bill with identical objectives: SB 63-106, “The Sexual Education Equality in Funding” bill. While student governments at other public universities in Texas (e.g., University of Texas at Austin and University of Houston) have openly, adamantly, and clearly rejected the intentions of the Texas Legislature, A&M’s SB 63-106 passed with a vote of 21-21, with the speaker of the Senate breaking the tie in favor of the bill. The Student Government Association at the University of Houston called for the Texas governor to veto the state amendment, citing potential harm to the university’s already-existing diversity initiatives — initiatives similar to the ones in existence at Texas A&M, which have long been met with opposition by conservative Aggie student groups.
Immediately after the passing of SB 63-106, Texas A&M students both in favor of and in opposition to the bill expressed impassioned viewpoints that quickly manifested in emotional and aggressive debates. The fervor of these debates was further heightened by the publication of four GLBT-related articles in the student newspaper, The Battalion. GLBT/Ally students felt empowered by the publication of articles with positive representations of GLBT individuals, especially following the events of GLBT Awareness Week, which took place April 1-15. Some non-GLBT/Ally students felt that the articles contributed to an imbalanced, liberal-leaning perspective on the rise at Texas A&M. Many students from both perspectives on the issue have unfortunately engaged in hostile communications and the use of unwarranted personal attacks.
Texas A&M Student Body President Jacob Robinson vetoed the decision to pass the bill, sending it back to the Student Senate — where it failed to receive the two-thirds majority required to override Robinson’s veto. However, the damage to campus climate as a result of the bill had already been done. Tension between GLBT/Ally students, faculty, and staff and some of the bill’s more vocal supporters has never been higher. The Texas A&M GLBT Resource Center no longer feels like the safe space that it used to be, and although it appears, for the time being, that no funding will be cut and a center for “family and traditional values” will not be established, what has been most alarming about the events that have unfolded over the last month is the lack of public, GLBT-supportive responses from university officials. In perhaps the most critical moment for GLBT Aggies since they won the right to have a student organization on campus in the 1980s, the university has failed to send the message that homophobia, heterosexism, and hatred for the GLBT community will not be tolerated.
In 2008, a student group attracted negative, national media attention for hosting an “Anti-Obama Carnival” which included an egg toss station where participants were given the opportunity toss eggs at an image of Obama’s face. This group received a slap on the wrist from the university, with statements being released to indicate that while the student group had the right to free speech, their opinions should have been voiced in a more constructive manner. Though the University did not publicly address the blatant racism of the rally, a statement — any statement — coming remotely close to condemning the actions of the event helped deflect some the negative attention from the major media outlets. In this instance, the university recognized how the actions of a few can impact the reputation of the entire institution. However, when GLBT Aggies have been bullied with hateful rhetoric and threats to safety, not even the slightest slap on the wrist has been administered.
Just last semester, in October 2010, when a student group distributed fliers portraying Islamic women as oppressed and helpless human beings in need of Westernization, A&M President Dr. Bowen Loftin sent an email to the campus community reiterating “institutional commitment and responsibility to address hate and bias incidents on campus.” Dr. Loftin also said, “I oppose hatred and bigotry and stand firm in our commitment to diversity and the goals of our Diversity Plan.” Dr. Loftin was appalled at how the actions of this student group “misrepresent[ed] and mischaracteriz[ed]” Islamic people. SB 63-106, in placing a “traditional and family values” center in opposition to the GLBT Resource Center, posits that GLBT individuals do not and cannot embody “traditional and family values,” a lie that misrepresents and mischaracterizes the GLBT community. But, again, there has been no public or official university response to the discourse surrounding the bill or the conversations that have taken place as a result of its production.
It seems that issues of race and religion can more easily elicit a meaningful, public, timely, and calculated response from Texas A&M University officials than issues surrounding sexual identity. Perhaps it is because sexual orientation is not officially a protected class at our public institution of higher learning. Perhaps it is because homophobia still remains strong on this campus and has constructed and sustained fear in the hearts of even our most prominent leaders. The data from Texas A&M Student Life Studies in April 2010 indicates that 70 percent of GLBT students (compared to 2 percent of heterosexual students) have felt or regularly feel uncomfortable about others’ reactions to their sexual orientation. Make no mistake: A public statement addressing homophobia and heterosexism at Texas A&M must be made before progress can be achieved, before GLBT students can once again feel completely safe and accepted on this campus. Will we hear from our vice president for diversity? Representatives from the Division of Student Affairs? The university president? Will it take something more serious than the exchange of words to invoke a serious reaction?
What can YOU do to help? Email the following Texas A&M University officials to initiate conversations about more public administrative support for the GLBT/Ally Aggie Community:
• President Dr. Bowen Loftin: email@example.com
• VP for Student Affairs, Lt. Gen. Joe Weber, USMC (Ret.): firstname.lastname@example.org
• VP and associate provost for diversity, Dr. Christine Stanley: email@example.com
Tiffany Creecy graduated from Texas A&M in 2009 with her undergraduate degree in psychology. Josh Collins graduated from Texas A&M in 2009 with his undergraduate degree in communication. Both Creecy and Collins will graduate again from A&M in May 2011 with master’s degrees in Educational Human Resource Development and graduate certifications in Women’s and Gender Studies.