Tongan Olympian Amini Fonua on being an openly gay athlete at Texas A&M

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FonuaTexas A&M is consistently ranked as one of the most homophobic schools in the nation by the Princeton Review — and recently the Aggie Student Senate again tried to cut funding for the school’s GLBT Resource Center.

So we were pleasantly surprised to hear that the school is home to an openly gay swimmer, senior Amini Fonua, who represented his native Tonga at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

It sounds like Fonua has been out to his Aggie teammates for some time, but a story today on the front page of the campus newspaper, The Battallion, appears to be his first public announcement:

Fonua, a senior telecommunications and media studies major, said many assume maintaining his identity as an Aggie athlete and a gay man would be difficult and controversial. Yet the Olympian said his story has been a “fairy tale” in terms of what others have experienced and not the trial and battle many perceive it would be.

Fonua said problems tend to arise when one must hide his or her true identity. The Aggie honor code, he said, is not compatible with dishonesty about one’s nature.

“An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal,” Fonua said. “And if you’re living in the closet, you’re living a lie.”

Fonua was a flag-bearer for Tonga in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Over the weekend, he flew 7,000 miles to surprise his mother on her birthday — which he has missed for each of the last three years due to NCAA Swimming Championships. Watch the heartwarming video from Fonua’s blog below.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Texas A&M student body president vetoes illegal, anti-gay bill

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Texas A&M Student Body President John L. Claybrook has vetoed an anti-gay bill passed by the Student Senate on Wednesday that would have allowed students to opt out of funding the campus GLBT Resource Center with their activity fees if they have religious objections. The GLBT Aggies group just posted the above image of Claybrook’s veto on Facebook.

The Eagle of Bryan-College Station reported this morning:

News this week that some student senators had targeted the center thrust the traditionally conservative university into the national spotlight, and Claybrook said it was time to “stop the bleeding.”

“The damage must stop today,” Claybrook wrote in a letter announcing his intention to veto. “Texas A&M students represent our core value of respect exceptionally and I’m very proud of the family at this university. Now, more than ever, is the time to show great resolve and come together, treating each other like the family that we are.”

—  John Wright

GLBT Aggies gear up for forum on anti-gay Student Senate bill

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Texas A&M Student Senator Chris Woolsey, second from left, is shown in this photo with Gov. Rick Perry from Woolsey’s Facebook page. Woolsey is the sponsor of the GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill.

The LGBT community at Texas A&M University is gearing up for an open forum Wednesday night to discuss a Student Senate bill designed to cut funding for the school’s GLBT Resource Center.

The GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill, introduced two weeks ago, would allow students to opt out of funding the campus GLBT Resource Center with their activity fees if they have religious objections. According to The Battallion student newspaper, about $100,000 goes to the GLBT Center annually — or about $2 per student.

The campus group GLBT Aggies says the bill, similar to one introduced two years ago, is discriminatory and amounts to an attack against the LGBT community under the guise of religious freedom. Just as in 2011, a parallel effort is under way in the state Legislature to defund LGBT resource centers on college campuses in Texas.

“As a community dedicated to respecting diversity, we support measures sincerely aimed at protecting the religious beliefs of Texas A&M students, including those of many within the LGBT community,” GLBT Aggies wrote in a news release about the Student Senate bill last week. “However, while SB 65-70 claims to promote religious freedom, we cannot ignore that it only allows students with one religious belief to control how their student fees are used: only religious traditions that disapprove of LGBT interests are given a voice. A bill truly dedicated to allowing religious designation of fees would make the opportunity available to students of all faiths toward whatever policy creates a moral conflict of interest for them. Given the extremely narrow scope of this bill, we can only conclude that its interest lies not in promoting religious freedom but specifically in targeting the LGBT community. Whatever the intentions of the bill may be, its effect is clearly discriminatory.”

—  John Wright

A&M deemed unsafe for transgender conference

In the wake of an effort to shut down the school’s LGBT resource center, Texas A&M University has been deemed an unsafe venue for an upcoming statewide transgender conference. The third annual Texas Transgender Nondiscrimination Summit, set for August, has been moved to the University of Houston to protect “the safety for the participants,” the Houston Press reports:

“The climate at A&M for GLBT people has taken a big hit, and right now anything can fuel those fires,” the group said in its announcement.

Organizer Josephine Tittsworth cited the A&M administration’s muted reaction to the conservative protests for the move. “The lack of supportive responses from TAMU administration has been perceived as condoning a campus that is not affirming for members of the GLBT community,” she said.

Back in April, the Texas A&M Student Senate voted to support a budget amendment by State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, that would have required schools with LGBT resource centers to equally fund centers for “family and traditional values.”

The Student Senate measure was later vetoed by the student body president, and Christian’s amendment was stripped from the final state budget. But LGBT advocates say the episode has fostered a climate of hate at A&M, which already ranked among the most homophobic schools in the country.

—  John Wright

Texas A&M faculty senate backs DP benefits

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Texas A&M University’s faculty senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to endorse health benefits for the same-sex partners of employees. With about 60 faculty senators present, only one voted against the proposal, according to the The Eagle of Bryan/College Station.

“[It's] sending a strong signal to the university general counsel, Board of Regents and others that this is what we want to make this a stronger university,” said Ramona Paetzold, chair of the senate’s Personnel and Welfare Committee.

The resolution approved by the faculty senate calls for the A&M system’s  governing authority to create a beneficiary category that would cover domestic partners. The resolution suggests a “plus one” category, which would allow employees to cover an additional person based on financial dependence. The “plus one” category might avoid running afoul of Texas’ marriage ban, as well as state insurance law defining dependents as spouses and children.

The A&M vote comes one week after the University of Texas’ College of Liberal Arts unanimously approved a resolution, signed by all 21 academic chairs, calling for the school to offer DP benefits.

—  John Wright