SMU Student Senate considers LGBT rep

Posted on 19 Oct 2009 at 9:04pm
By David Taffet | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Gay student Tom Elliott presented proposal this week; vote to come after school’s Thanksgiving break


Tom Elliott

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, Southern Methodist University undergraduate Tom Elliott presented a proposal to the school’s Student Senate to create an LGBT senate seat. Four students and a professor spoke in favor of the measure.

Senators will debate and vote on the issue at their next meeting after the Thanksgiving break.

Elliott said he had presented the proposal because, "I couldn’t stand to do nothing anymore."

He said he had a friend who was stressed out and thought about committing suicide. After reading a Dallas Voice article about the Princeton Review’s ranking of SMU as the 14th least gay-friendly school in the country, Elliott decided to do something about it.

The resolution Elliott submitted notes unique needs of the LGBT student community that include safety, health and housing concerns and protection from discrimination, which require independent representation.

The student body constitution allows for minority senators as determined by the senate. That representation may continue until that minority makes up 15 percent of the student body for at least two consecutive years.

Francisco Moran, a Spanish professor at the school, told the Senate that adding an LGBT seat "only makes sense as we move in the direction of a diverse community."

Aaron Barnes, a student, said, "Student senators represent all students. Sexual orientation includes heterosexuality."

He said that gender issues are central to what happens on campus, especially in relation to fraternity and sorority events.

"We need equal representation on this campus, and we are discriminated against," said Brooks Oliver, the co-president of Spectrum, the campus LGBT organization.
In his plea for representation, Spectrum Treasurer Rich McPhee explained the high suicide rate among LGBT youth.

In October, two other special senate seats were proposed, one for disabled students and one for transfer students. Both were defeated, as was a proposal to eliminate special seats.

However, the current senate has special African-American, Asian, Hispanic and transfer student seats.

Representatives in minority seats are elected by those designated by the university as members of those groups.

Elliott said in the case of LGBT students, no records of people’s sexual orientation or gender identity are kept. Instead, Elliott’s proposal is that students who are members of chartered organizations with a primary interest in LGBT issues would choose the senator.

A proposal has come before the Student Senate to end all special seats. Some senators have indicated that they wanted to delay vote on the LGBT seat until they decide whether or not to continue these seats, probably next spring.

In his presentation, Elliott argued that the student body’s constitution as currently written does include special interest seats and to deny LGBT students representation now denies them their constitutional rights.

He also addressed the school’s religious affiliation. While the Methodist Church does not ordain openly gay or lesbian ministers, in 2008 they voted to welcome sexual minorities into their churches.

The school’s embrace of the LGBT community dates back farther. Its nondiscrimination policy, Elliott said, dates back to 1999 and Spectrum was chartered in the early 1990s.

No debate among senators was allowed on the issue on Nov. 17. That will happen, along with the vote, at their meeting on Dec. 1.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 20, 2009.

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