By Wendy White, published October 21, 1988
Ohio State University, Oberlin, Ohio University, University of Cincinnati and more than a hundred other colleges all have something Case Western Reserve University doesn't have—a sexual orientation non-discrimination statement. Greg Davis, president of the Lesbian and Gay Student Union, is trying to change that fact.
Insertion of a sexual orientation clause into CWRU's Nondiscrimination Statement was suggested in 1982 by Charlie Callander, an openly gay faculty member. David Ragone, former president of the University, opposed the idea on the basis that it wasn't the University's policy to enumerate the many groups against which it does not discriminate. In effect this was a "refusal to acknowledge that there is discrimination against gay people," said Davis. "Since changes in policy do not usually occur without the support of the President, the issue went no further."
Last spring, a forum on prejudice was created in response to ongoing acts of discrimination. "I felt this to be a good time to revive this issue and identify a group of supporters," Davis said. "Changes in the nondiscrimination policy were identified as a main objective, a logical pursuit for the Forum on Prejudice."
The Board of Trustees meets three times a year to make policy decisions for the University. In between the full board meetings, an Executive Committee meets once a month to discuss issues and set the agenda. Although the Executive Committee has the power to act on behalf of the Board of Trustees, the issue of the sexual orientation clause only reached the discussion stage at the August and September meetings. "Nobody knows why they haven't acted. Executive Committee has discussed it in closed session, shrouding the issue in secrecy", Davis said.
Davis feels that the Board of Trustees "needs to understand that it is not being asked to endorse a lifestyle." Gay people, Davis insisted, do not need the endorsement of the Board.
"Although it is intellectually irresponsible, individual Board members may hold homophobic views, but it is the University's responsibility to protect the individual. The Board protects a person's right to be Jewish without endorsing Judaism. Gays are subject to the same kind of discrimination that haunts religious and racial groups as well as women," said Davis.
"The fears gays have are real; finding housing, getting a job, enjoying the privileges straight people enjoy," Davis said. "It's a trade off of rights. You trade off your right to be happy and accept who you are for the right to be treated equally."
Homosexuals have never found disclosure easy, but having to face the very real discrimination against gays that exists in today's society makes it just that much harder. The main point for pursuing this policy change, " is to openly state that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unacceptable," said Davis.
"Who could possibly and reasonably be against equal protection for ,everyone?" said Davis. "The people who resist this change, their position is that this policy will make the University vulnerable. When I can't identify a legitimate fear, I begin to think they are just homophobic, and what they really fear is homosexuality."
Secretary of the Corporation Philip Legge, when asked what concerns of the Board were causing the hesitancy, said, "I am not at liberty to say. The subject is under review. There will be further discussion on the topic."
Additional requests for specifics on the Board's progress were met with the same response. "Complex issues sometimes take months and even years" to be resolved, said Legge.
The Board of Trustees met on Friday, October 14. The sexual orientation issue was not on the agenda. Legge, when asked on October 13 whether the topic could still be discussed at the meeting said it was "possible but not likely."
Although the next full Board meeting isn't until March, there is a possibility the issue will be addressed by Executive Committee in the intervening months.
"The Executive Committee has acted for the Board of Trustees on, matters of more importance. Though I wouldn't want to predict, I would not be too surprised if the Executive Committee was to take final action on this matter," President Agnar Pytte commented.
Inclusion of sexual orientation into the statement would be an action met positively by many groups and individuals who have lent their support. Amy Zoldak, president of the Undergraduate Student Government said, "The USG's policy of recognizing groups includes such a statement. We are in favor of modifying the University's policy to include sexual orientation." Two bills have been passed by the Undergraduate Student Assembly to this effect.
President Pytte will support any decision made by the Board of Trustees or its Executive Committee, "My own personal view is that I do support the insertion of that phrase into the statement," commented] Pytte Efforts will continue to be made to further the progress initiated by Davis. The Faculty Senate and USG intend to bring the issue before the Student Affairs Visiting Committee which reports to the Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees The Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate will bring the issue up with the Academic Affairs Commit. tee of the Board of Trustees. In addition there is a Student Life Committee for the Undergraduate Colleges which USG will approach directly for its endorsement.
CWRU's Faculty Senate and USG plan on contacting other universities who have instituted such& change to determine the impact has had. It is their hope that the Board of Trustees will take this broad support into considerate when making its decision.
"I'm really pleased with the progress that has been made," Davis said. "I think that working through the channels we have identified, will find success in the near future.