WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (MA-5) and Representatives Chris Pappas (NH-1), Sharice Davids (KS-3), and Mondaire Jones (NY-17) introduced the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act, legislation that will require universities that receive federal funds to apply for a waiver from the Department of Education before allowing them to claim religious exemption from Title IX protections for students. The bill also requires the Department of Education and the exempted higher education institutions to prominently display the waiver on their websites in order to inform students of their beliefs before arriving on campus.
"Every student deserves to attend a college where their entire identity is accepted and celebrated," said Assistant Speaker Clark. "Without transparency about a school's beliefs, students may arrive on campus only to learn that their school has policies in place that infringe on their civil rights. I'm proud to introduce the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act to ensure that students can apply to college with all the information necessary to set them up for success."
Beginning in 2013, several higher education institutions across the U.S. applied for religious exemptions with the Department of Education that would allow them to discriminate against LGBTQ students on campus. These exemptions allow students to be removed from extracurricular organizations, leadership posts, sports teams, and even be expelled simply for being members of the LGBTQ community. During the Trump administration, the Department of Education proposed a rule that no longer requires institutions to apply for waivers to invoke a religious exemption. The Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act reverses this proposed rule by reinstating the additional step of requiring schools to seek a waiver before enabling them to step over civil rights laws. In January 2020, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
"I'm appalled that schools continue to receive federal funds while openly discriminating against students based on gender identity or sexual orientation," Pappas said. "It's wrong that LGBTQ+ students across the country may still find themselves in an unwelcoming or unsafe environment when they arrive on campus. LGBTQ+ students deserve to be aware of discriminatory policies prior to enrolling at an institution, and requiring schools to publicly disclose when they request and receive waivers will help ensure that they have access to this information."
"Every student deserves an educational experience free from discrimination and harassment. At the moment, we are letting down our LGBTQ+ community on college campuses, as more taxpayer-funded universities quietly skirt around civil rights law," Davids said. "By reinstating the waiver requirement for universities who seek exemption from anti-discrimination protections, we are not only protecting LGBTQ+ students from unfair treatment, but we are reminding them that their experience is visible and valuable."
"Right now, LBGTQ+ students can be kicked off sports teams, removed from extracurricular clubs, and even expelled from their colleges or universities simply for being themselves," Jones said. "By citing religious exemptions from civil rights law, many universities can legally discriminate against LGBTQ+ students without any accountability or oversight. Our bill, the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act, would change that by requiring these universities to not only apply for waivers, but also post those waivers online. LGBTQ+ students deserve to receive an education free from discrimination, and I'm proud that our bill would bring us one step closer to that reality."
The problem was first brought to Clark's attention in 2013 by the Human Rights Campaign's landmark report, "Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk". In this report, the Human Rights Campaign called upon Congress and the Administration to act upon this issue. In the same year, Clark filed legislation to require the Department of Education to publicize any school exemptions and the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act expands on that original bill by requiring schools to seek a waiver.