Texas A&M Student Senate Allows Personal Defunding of LGBT Center
Update: The president of the student body at Texas A&M University, John Claybrook, vetoed the student senate's approval of allowing students not to pay for LGBT campus programs.
The (College Station, Texas) Eagle broke the news.
Saying it was time to "stop the bleeding," John Claybrook wrote in a letter announcing his veto. "The damage must stop today," he emphatically added. "Texas A&M students represent our core value of respect exceptionally and I'm very proud of the family at this university. Now, more than ever, is the time to show great resolve and come together, treating each other like the family that we are."
Given the narrow 35-28 vote, it looks as though the Aggies will be continuing fully to fund the center. Claybrook indicated to the Eagle that, out of the more than 1,300 emails he's gotten in 24 hours over the issue, the overwhelming majority were critical of the senate vote.
The bill's co-author, Chris Woolsey, seemed to be almost relieved that the whole fracas was over, even if his side lost. ""That's just how the process works," Woolsey told the Eagle. "It's just how the democratic process works. That's his check on us."
The student senate at Texas A&M University approved a bill Wednesday night that would allow students to opt out of funding the school's LGBT Resource Center if they cite their religious beliefs, the Dallas Voice reports.
The Student Senate debated the measure for three hours before finally voting 35-28 in favor of defunding. Less than 24 hours before the vote, the bill's name was changed from "GLBT Funding Opt Out Bill" to "The Religious Funding Exemption Bill." Additionally, the specific references to the Texas A&M's LGBT Resource Center were removed.
The measure's opponents said that the name change did not change the anti-gay nature of the bill. The Dallas Voice quoted Student Body President John Claybrook as not being sure if he would veto the bill or not.
Student Senate Finance Chairman Fernando Sosa told the Houston Chronicle that the revised bill "doesn't target any specific group, and for that reason, I now support it."
Chris Woolsey, the bill's creator, dismissed those opposed to the measure as being "emotional." The opposition "has been trying to appeal to the 'feel-good crowd' and the 'let's-all-be-friends crowd,' rather than offering a logical argument," Woolsey told the Houston Chronicle. According to Sosa, Texas A&M's LGBT center receives about $100,000 per year ($2 a student).
"Students should be able to decide where their money goes," he said. "Its not my intention to hurt the resources provided to GLBT Aggies."
As a public university, the student representatives at Texas A&M, which is located in a town near Waco, may have considered their measure a compromise intended to head off even more draconian action in Austin. State Rep. Bill Zedler is proposing an amendment to the state's budget that would cut off all state funds to LGBT centers at any of the state's many public universities.
The same night A&M's student senate made its move, the University of Houston Student Government Association went on the attack with a unanimous resolution opposing Zedler's plan. Cedric Bandoh, president of the University of Houston's Student Government Association, said students were already en route to the state capital at Austin to make their voices heard in the debate.
"I do not stand for any kind of discrimination and will definitely not stand for this nonsense," Bandoh told the Chronicle. "With all of the other major financial and other issues facing higher education, we need to focus our attention to real and pressing issues. The Women's Resource Center and LGBT Resource Center play an essential role here on campus and provide vital resources and services to our students."
Same-sex marriage is not only illegal in Texas, it's embedded in the state's constitution. Gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions are not recognized there. Outside of the major cities, the state is known for its conservative electorate and for politicians like George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry. But another prominent politician, Annise Parker, is serving her second term as Houston's mayor. By far the largest city in the state, Houston is also far and away the nation's largest city to have an out-gay mayor.
Parker, who was supported by many conservative voters who liked her close scrutiny of the city's budget, is indicative of the winds of change sweeping across the Lone Star State's vast expanses. In late March, the Texas Tribune analyzed polls. "Opposition to same sex-marriage has been on a slow and steady decline" in Texas, the article noted.
Most recent polls show 60 percent of Texans support some legal recognition of same-sex relationships. The number supporting marriage now beats out those opposed. Adding supporters of civil unions shows a clear majority.
While the vote by their peers at Texas A&M shows that that old-time religion continues as a powerful force against LGBT rights, change is certainly coming. It may take time and there may be more reverses. MSNBC wondered if Texas might be turning blue. The New York Times recently wrote that "Republicans should be worried, but Democrats in Austin and Phoenix shouldn't stock up on confetti just yet."