Yesterday, a group of roughly 120 students covered their mouths with purple duct tape and gathered in the center of the University of Portland, the city’s largest Catholic university, to demand that their school change its policy toward LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty.
Organized by a student activist group calling itself Redefine Purple Pride, UP students at the protest told the Mercury (after they ripped the duct tape off their mouths, of course) they organized the demonstration to bring attention to the culture of “silence” and “discrimination” they see at their school. And their first target is the university’s Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Policy.
The current policy affords protections for students, staff, and faculty, based on the usual suspects, namely: race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, disability, and age. It also gives a wink and a nod to protections afforded under federal and state laws. But it’s nothing more than a wink and a nod, and the school’s administration knows this.
In statements to the student body, university president Father Bill Beauchamp has made it clear that the school’s nonprofit religious status makes it exempt from legal protections that businesses and non-religious institutions couldn’t get away with not following—including protections based on sexual orientation.
In his most recent carefully worded statement, Beauchamp makes this clear:
As a religious institution, we are not required under state and federal law to include sexual orientation in our nondiscrimination policy. This exception is a reflection of one of the principles our country was founded upon: that the government will respect the right of religious institutions to create and abide by policies that reflect the teachings of their respective faith traditions. The University of Portland is a Roman Catholic institution and is guided by Catholic moral teaching on sexuality, which applies to all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
The statement does note the school has an inclusion policy, which does include a statement about protection for sexual orientation. However, Beauchamp admits, this policy is in no way legally binding.
Beauchamp is right about his school’s legal exemption. Oregon law allows religious nonprofits to pretty much treat LGBTQ employees however they see fit.
"It is not an unlawful employment practice," so goes the law, "for a bona fide church or other religious institution to take any employment action based on a bona fide religious belief about sexual orientation."
The Mercury is currently looking into whether, as Beauchamp suggests, his school’s religious exemption also applies to student admissions, and (the even more prickly question) that if the nondiscrimination policy is changed to include protections for sexual orientation if this will just be a hollow promise and if the school will still be able to fire staff or expel students for their bedroom proclivities.
Concerned about the hard-line stance his school is taking toward its LGBTQ members, UP student Casey Andersen told the Mercury, “It just seems backward to be in one of the most progressive cities in the nation and to be such an unprogressive school.”