A nonprofit organization that focuses on creating safe environments for LGBTQ students has released its annual “Worst List” of colleges and universities that it deems unsafe for members of the LGBTQ community, with 50 new campuses being added to the list this year alone.
In total, 180 colleges or universities are on the “Worst List,” which has been released annually by Campus Pride since 2015. The colleges on the list are those that have either demonstrated a track record of anti-LGBTQ actions, programs, or practices, or those that have requested Title IX religious exemptions that allow the institutions to discriminate against potential applicants and current students based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
All of the colleges on this year’s list are religiously-affiliated, Campus Pride noted, highlighting an example in which Liberty University, based on Lynchburg, Virginia, allegedly placed students into conversion therapy, while also criticizing the university for affiliating itself with the conservative legal organization Liberty Counsel, which has taken up legal fights against pro-LGBTQ laws or policies across the country.
“These aren’t just bad campuses or the worst campuses — these campuses fundamentally are unsafe for LGBTQ students, and, as a result, they’re fundamentally unsafe for all students to go to,” Shane Windmeyer, the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, told NBC News. “They promote an environment of hostility, of discrimination, harassment, toward a group of people, and who wants — when you’re trying to be educated — to have that type of negative learning environment?”
Locally, six colleges in Virginia — Liberty, Bluefield University, in Bluefield; Patrick Henry College, in Purcellville; Regent University, in Virginia Beach; Southern Virginia University, in Buena Vista; and Virginia Baptist College, in Fredericksburg — made the list, as did the D.C.-based Catholic University of America and Appalachian Bible College in Mount Hope, West Virginia. No Maryland-based colleges or universities made the list.
Windemeyer told NBC News that this year’s update to the list was significant because of changes imposed by the Trump administration regarding the Title IX exemption process, such as stopping the publication of a list of schools requesting an exemption, and eliminating a requirement that religious schools request an exemption from the federal government by automatically exempting all religiously-affiliated institutions. This change has allowed religiously-affiliated colleges and universities to continue receiving federal education money while discriminating against LGBTQ students.
Earlier this year, dozens of current and former college students filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of education alleging that the religious exemption granted to these institutions under Title IX is unconstitutional. The plaintiffs argue the exemption encourages and even incentivizes religious colleges and universities to discriminate against LGBTQ students without fearing the loss of federal funding. Among the colleges named in that lawsuit are 29 of the 180 on Campus Pride’s “Worst List.”
Windmeyer added that while the Biden administration has republished the list of schools applying for exemptions, it hasn’t reversed or clarified the Trump policy granting automatic exemptions for religious colleges.
“Biden has still yet to clarify if Title IX exemptions are mandatory or if he has an executive order that is going to make them mandatory, which I feel that if a campus is going to openly discriminate, then it should be mandated that they tell students and that they have a Title IX exemption on file with the federal government,” Windmeyer said. “I think that’s the bare minimum our federal government can do to protect these LGBTQ young people.”
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