East Tennessee State University changed an online description of federal protections for LGBTQ students, in response to a request from state Representative John Ragan, but the university reaffirmed that its non-discrimination policy applies to all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In response to a letter that Joint Government Operations Committee Chairman John Ragan sent to state universities, ETSU said it has amended the definition of Title IX protections posted online to conform to state law. Essentially, it dropped references to sex discrimination and the protection of all genders and sexual orientations in the description of Title IX, a federal civil rights law.
Federal guidelines from the Biden administration in 2021 made LGBTQ students a protected class until a federal judge in July suspended the rules amid litigation.
“However, ETSU has several policies that prohibit discrimination and our university’s non-discrimination policy remains unchanged,” ETSU spokesperson Jess Vodden said in a statement.
As published on its website, ETSU prohibits discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct on the basis of any federally or state protected class, including race, color or ethnicity, gender, orientation gender, sex, gender identity or gender expression, national origin, marital or parental status, religion, age, disability, veteran status and/or genetic information in education programs or activities and employment. The policy applies to all levels and areas of university operations and programs as well as undergraduate and graduate students, administrators, faculty, staff, volunteers, suppliers and contractors.
“The courts are currently determining whether sexual orientation and/or gender expression is considered a protected class under Title IX at universities in Tennessee and nationwide. Regardless of this outcome, ETSU’s policy prohibiting any form of discrimination remains in effect,” Vodden said. “At the heart of ETSU’s mission and values is the statement that people come first, are treated with dignity and respect, and are encouraged to achieve their full potential.
The previous version of ETSU Title IX includes the words “all genders and all sexual orientations”.
The new version of ETSU Title IX removes references to “all genders and sexual orientations”.
Former Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who left office last week, has led a group of state attorneys general nationwide to backtrack on federal guidelines, filing a lawsuit in federal court in Tennessee. east of Tennessee. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Atchley issued an order in late July stating that the Biden administration’s federal guidelines “directly interfere with and threaten the ability of the complaining states to continue to enforce their domestic laws.” restricting transgender athletic competition and the use of restrooms that match students’ gender identity.
Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill this year banning transgender athletes from playing in women’s varsity sports. Title IX is a federal law protecting people from discrimination based on sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
In May, a federal judge struck down a new state law requiring businesses to post warning signs if they allow transgender people to use restrooms that match their gender identity. The state has also enacted a law prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
East Tennessee State responded after Ragan sent a letter to universities advising them that they should “revoke and/or remove” any postings, policies or website entries implying that LGBTQ students are a class protected after a federal court suspended the Biden administration’s guidelines. . Such changes “could be construed as a violation of state law,” Ragan said in his letter.
The Oak Ridge Republican told universities to respond to his request by September 2. He also pointed out that the US Department of Education threatened to withdraw federal funding from universities if their Title IX obligations included LGBTQ students.
A spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus pointed out that Ragan had the authority to send the letter to universities because Tennessee agency policy changes stemming from federal guidelines fall under the oversight of the Government Operations Committee.
According to state law, agencies under the Government Operations Committee’s oversight must submit a list of new policies by July 1 to the committee’s Senate and House chairmen.
Ragan has come under fire from the Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and fellow Democrats who have claimed he lacks the power to issue orders to state universities.
Ragan’s letter not only asked the agencies to submit a list of changes based on the federal guidelines, but ordered the universities to remove them.
University of Tennessee System President Randy Boyd responded to Ragan’s Aug. 22 letter confirming that he had not changed his Title IX publications, policies, or websites in response to a letter. June 2021 U.S. Department of Education or July federal court order. .
“Furthermore, as we have discussed previously, we do not believe that anything in our current policies, procedures, or statements relating to Title IX or non-discrimination violates any federal or state law,” the president said. of UT, Randy Boyd, in his letter.
An MTSU spokesperson said Monday that the president’s office has not received a letter from Ragan.
But ETSU attorney Mark Fulks sent Ragan a letter saying the university had not changed its Title IX compliance rule in response to federal government guidance in June 2021. He pointed out that the ETSU had filed its compliance rule with the Secretary of State’s office in May. 2021, well before the release of the federal guidelines.
“Apart from our Title IX compliance rule, the university has existing policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity since we became independent of the Tennessee Board of Regents,” a wrote Fulks.
From March 2017 to January 2020, the state of East Tennessee followed the Tennessee Board of Regents policy, which prohibited discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender expression, according to Fulks.
In October 2021, the ETSU adopted a policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct based on sexual orientation, gender identity and many other things, allowing it to remain consistent with the position of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, according to Fulks. letter.
Fulks also pointed to the university’s employee code of conduct, which states, “ETSU is committed to the core values of people, relationships, diversity, excellence, efficiency and honesty, as well as to create an academic community committed to integrity, respect for diversity, community involvement and non-violence.
In addition, ETSU as an employer is governed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination against applicants and employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity and gender expression, Fulks pointed out.