EMU: Protecting LGBTQ students and faculty?

Eastern Michigan University is one of the few state universities that include sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity in its equal opportunity and non-discrimination policy. But its policy also includes some ambiguous language that calls into question just how much protection it truly offers LGBTQ students and faculty.
The language in question is found in the second paragraph of the school's Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action and Civil Rights policy (Chapter 3.1.3 of the Employment/Affirmative Action section):
"The sexual orientation, gender identity or expression provision of this policy shall not prohibit the University from maintaining relationships with agencies of the federal government and shall not be applied to conflict with any provisions of the Michigan Constitution. Further, except where approved by separate action of the Board of Regents, the sexual orientation provisions of this policy shall not apply to employment benefits, family housing, financial aid packages and student residency status."
The first sentence of the policy is one that many state universities have to include, as long as they offer more protections to LGBT students than the federal government mandates.
But the second sentence of the policy brings up a critical question: Does EMU allow LGBTQ students and faculty to be discriminated against when it comes to employee benefits, housing, financial aid and residency?
BTL talked with EMU's human resources department over the phone, and exchanged e-mails with the school's office of legal affairs. Neither HR nor legal affairs explained the effects or intent of the second sentence of the policy.
BTL also provided a copy of EMU's policy to Judy Hudson, a lawyer from Plymouth, Mich. Hudson said that the second sentence of the policy appears to remove many of the protections provided by the anti-discrimination policy.
"It seems that employees and students are protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, except in these four ways," Hudson said. "The right hand seems to be taking away what the left just gave you."
Hudson said that it is likely that the policy was written in an attempt to comply with the Michigan Supreme Court's 2008 ruling that made it illegal for state employees to be provided with domestic partner benefits. "It became illegal for public universities to treat same-sex partnerships as marriages, and many universities likely scrambled to protect themselves," Hudson said. Many universities now offer benefits to one "other eligible adult" who shares a household with an employee, instead of a "domestic partner," because the state Supreme Court says "domestic partner" benefits sound too much like marriage benefits, and marriage in Michigan is restricted to one man and one woman. EMU's policy was revised to include the language in question on Sept. 22, 2009.
"Although I cannot possibly know what the university's intentions were," Hudson said, "my guess is they had no ill intent, but were attempting to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling. The (court's) decision likely put them in a quandary."
But Hudson also noted: "As written, (EMU's) policy appears to go further than the state Supreme Court decision would require it to."
Implications and intents aside, EMU's advisory board to the president of Student Affairs has started to question the policy. The advisory board is responsible for many progressive changes in policy and was responsible for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in the non-discrimination policy in the first place. Advisory board member and LGBT program coordinator Mary Larkin said she hopes to have the policy revised.
John Palladino, chairman of the advisory board, is trying to figure out the policy's implications and intent. "Suffice to say, it is going to be a possible upcoming agenda item at an administrative meeting at the university," he said, "for some further clarity about what is, at best, being termed the spirit of the law."
"(The board) doesn't feel that sentence is even necessary," Larkin said, "and this is right up our alley."
"It was likely intended to be benign," Hudson said. "I just don't think it ended up that way."
For more information on EMU from an LGBT perspective, check out BTL's University Project

Topics: News

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