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.