Metro Weekly

Va. House passes bill giving student groups more leeway to discriminate

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Thursday that could allow student organizations at Virginia public universities to openly discriminate against potential members without fear of reprisal on an 80-19 vote, sending the measure on to the state Senate.

C Todd GIlbert.pngThe bill, HB1617, sponsored by Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren counties), prohibits public institutions of higher education from “discriminating against a student organization or group on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical or other content of the organization or group’s speech.” It also allows religious or political student organizations to determine whom they may admit as members “in furtherance of the organization’s religious or political mission.”

The measure passed the lower chamber overwhelmingly, with 66 Republicans, 1 independent who caucuses with the Republicans, and 13 Democrats voting in favor of it. Nineteen Democrats, largely from metropolitan areas, opposed the measure.

The bill now heads to the state Senate, where it will be receive a committee hearing. 

Kevin Clay, a spokesman for Equality Virginia, the commonwealth’s major LGBT-rights organization, said Equality Virginia opposes the bill, which he says could potentially allow student groups at publicly funded universities to discriminate against LGBT individuals if they cite religious beliefs or political philosophies.

“Our concern with the bill is it allows discrimination with publicly accessible funds,” Clay said.

He further noted that universities, even if they have a nondiscrimination policy, are unable to deny funding or resources to groups that openly discriminate, because under current Virginia law, campus nondiscrimination policies are not legally binding. 

“This protects the student organizations, not the individual students,” Clay said, adding that Equality Virginia is asking concerned citizens to call their senators to oppose the bill. 

[Photo: Del. C. Todd Gilbert (Courtesy of the Virginia General Assembly)]

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