Religion

LGBTQ Rights vs Christian Schools: Who Does Biden Support?

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Look, it’s no secret that I am not a fan of President Joe Biden. If *I* got to pick the president of the United States, it would have been Jacinda Ardern. “But Rebecca,” you say, “Jacinda Ardern’s already the Prime Minister of New Zealand.” Yes. She is. And she’s doing a great job. Let’s poach her. That’s what successful companies do. You see someone doing a good job at another company? You poach their asses. Come on over here, Jacinda. We haven’t put a hole in our ozone yet and very few active volcanoes near high population areas. Plus In & Out.

So yeah, I want universal healthcare and basic income and higher education and for all drugs to be legal and maybe free so Biden is way too conservative for me, and I am always happy to bash him. And so when I saw this news that his Department of Justice was going to “vigorously” defend religious institutions’ right to discriminate against LGBTQ students, I was ready to go. 

But, when I started reading more about it, things got complicated! They always seem to when I start reading into them. I really need to stop doing that.

So, what, am I about to DEFEND Joe Biden? Against LGBTQ activists? DURING PRIDE MONTH? No. Well, kind of. Not really. I guess I’m actually going to just criticize the entire American system of justice and our troubled attempts to keep a separation between church and state.

Here’s what’s going on: Title IX is a federal law passed by Congress in 1972 essentially meant to protect women and girls from discrimination in education. Later, the courts determined that it could also be applied to protect LGBTQ people.

However! Various administrations over the years have introduced religious exemptions, first allowing religious-controlled schools to discriminate as they see fit, and then Trump opened the loopholes further to allow pretty much any institution to discriminate against anyone, and they don’t have to justify their actions unless they’re sued, at which point they can just say “Yeah, we just believe very strongly that, say lesbians shouldn’t exist.” And despite this discrimination, these schools can continue to benefit from federal funding.

Now, a collection of LGBTQ students have banded together to launch a class action lawsuit against the Department of Education for allowing their religious universities to discri minate against them in a variety of ways, like threatening them with fines and expulsion, humiliating them, and making them go through “conversion therapy” to magically turn them heterosexual. Let me head off one minor question you may be thinking right now — why would queer students attend anti-queer schools? Well, I don’t know about you but I had to pick universities when I was 16, and hadn’t even kissed a person let alone internalized the fact that I occasionally wanted to kiss girls. And the lead plaintiff in Hunter v Department of Education is Elizabeth Hunter, a lesbian who was placed with a foster family that was in a religious cult that didn’t think women should go to college at all, so to get out she had to apply to the fundamentalist Bob Jones University. The fact of the matter is that marginalized people often end up in these institutions that will abuse them.

Progressives might hope that the Biden Administration would respond to this lawsuit by saying “Hey, they’re right, they win.” Like, if I sue a company and they know I’m in the right, they could tell me “Yep, you’re right, here’s a million dollars.” Or whatever. Right? That’s how the law works?

Well in this case it’s not how it works. If the Department of Justice decides they can’t or won’t defend the Title IX exemptions, that would allow other groups to step in and do it for them. In this case, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) is already begging judges to get them off the bench and into the game, where they will argue that not only are the exemptions legal but that they don’t go far enough in allowing Christian schools to completely shit on women and queer people.

This puts the Biden administration in a tough spot: if they say “the students are right, let them win” they risk losing more protections for LGBTQ people in the end. If they say “okay, we will defend this law,” which they did, they get a bunch of very understandably upset progressives wondering why they’re being double-crossed by an administration that vowed to protect them.

I don’t fault activists for pushing back, and it’s impressive that they forced the administration to almost immediately revise their court filing, changing their “vigorous” defense to an “adequate” defense, which is a much much better, clearer word, and pointing out that the Department of Education will be reviewing the overall way they implement the exemptions.

Even though it doesn’t necessarily change much about how this case is going to go, I DO think those activists have done an amazing job sending a very big, very clear message that these exemptions are wrong and should be changed. And how do they get changed? Well, Congress established the exemption, so Congress can ditch it. 

It’s absolutely bonkers when you think about the fact that this even was put into the law in the first place. Like, let’s go to all this trouble to make sure schools don’t discriminate against women. But! If you really, really want to discriminate against women, you can. So long as you believe in it. Because religion. That’s some magical thinking right there. 

It’s 2021. It’s well past time for us to stop coddling religion. Telling religious institutions they can’t be bigots and still get federal funding isn’t discriminating against religion. Telling religious institutions they’re the only ones who CAN be bigots and still get federal funding is privileging religion. Secular organizations are at a disadvantage when they need to take care to protect marginalized people but religious organizations don’t need to. That’s a violation of separation of church and state.

And removing the religious exemption loophole wouldn’t even prevent institutions from continuing to discriminate against students! It would just mean they are no longer eligible to get our tax dollars. Your and my queer-ass gay as fuck tax dollars.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to do a purely happy Pride-oriented video but I think this is better — there’s good news, but we still have a fight ahead of us. For at least a little while, the Democrats have control of both houses of Congress. I hope that activists continue to agitate against this bullshit exemption and convince our representatives to step up and stop privileging religious institutions that want to abuse marginalized students.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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3 Comments

  1. Speaking as a politically left Kiwi, Ardern is not doing a great job on the whole. She’s done a great job in a few high profile issues we’ve had but in general her government has otherwise basically been a placeholder. They won an outright majority in the most recent election (very unusual in NZs MMP system) and they seem scared to do anything that might alienate the centre-right voters they’ve managed to get on board. It’s bad enough that many of the really die hard Labour (Ardern’s party) voters I know are planning to vote the more-left Green party next election.

    1. “However!” Love that; it’s better than W.E.du Bois’s “And yet.” (Norm Finkelstein brought that up while talking about du Bois’s style the other day )

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