Rally at Georgetown College asks trustees to expand non-discrimination policy

gkocher1@herald-leader.comApril 26, 2013 

GEORGETOWN — About 85 people rallied Friday to encourage the Georgetown College Board of Trustees to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender faculty and staff in the school's non-discrimination policy.

For the past five years, the college has had a written policy to protect gay students against discrimination. The college recently hired its first openly gay faculty members, mathematics professor Homer White said.

But the college's current no-discrimination policy for faculty and staff does not mention sexual orientation or gender identity. Those who rallied Friday said that stance conflicts with the college's public commitment to diversity and excludes LGBT faculty from workplace benefits, such as health insurance for their partners and families.

Friday's rally on the lawn in front of Giddings Hall was part of a planned series of events scheduled for "non-discrimination week" on the Georgetown campus, said Jim Allison, associate vice president of college relations.

"Georgetown College welcomes open dialogue, certainly, and welcomes students and others from various backgrounds," Allison wrote in an email.

Georgetown's board of trustees is scheduled to meet Saturday, but it is not known whether the board will discuss the proposed policy revision.

"Our guess is that it will be brought up, particularly since we sent a letter to all of" the trustees, said Eric Carter, an associate professor of sociology. "I don't think they'll completely ignore it. But that's the point: If we don't make a little bit of noise, the status quo will remain."

A year ago, 90 percent of the Georgetown faculty voted in favor of a non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation, Carter said.

But in October, the Academic Excellence Committee of the trustees voted to retain the current faculty handbook policy on non-discrimination and so did not change the policy to include sexual orientation.

This spring, 327 people signed an online petition supporting the policy change, and nearly 500 had signed petition cards, said Jamie McClard, 21, a sociology/psychology major from Clinton County.

The college administration might fear that such a policy will turn away conservative students from choosing Georgetown for higher education. "But I come from a really conservative place, and even people back home are like, 'Why is that not included?'" McClard said.

Cris Nunez, 20, a sociology major from Nogales, Ariz., said one person in his fraternity opposed the policy, "but he didn't stop the fraternity from signing it collectively. So there has been opposition here and there."

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, Kentucky's equal rights campaign for LGBT people, attended the rally. The grass-roots movement at Georgetown College could lead smaller private institutions elsewhere in Kentucky to do likewise, Hartman said.

Transylvania University and Centre College have policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity, rally organizers said. Berea College and Bellarmine University have policies that include sexual orientation.

Asbury University, University of the Cumberlands, Thomas More College, Saint Catharine College, Midway College and the University of Pikeville do not prohibit discrimination with regard to gender/orientation, organizers said.

Georgetown College has traditionally been affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which opposes homosexual relationships. The college cut its ties with the convention in 2005. Under previous agreements dating to 1942, the convention had the right to elect the college's trustees in return for providing financial support. Under the current arrangement, the convention's support was phased out, and the college picks its own trustees.

In his address to Friday's rally, White acknowledged that some people object to homosexual relationships for moral and theological reasons.

"You can and should, in conscience, oppose us," White said. "In fact, we want you to oppose us, because you would then be acting on your conscience, and we consider people who act on their conscience to be our friends."

But White said objectors should consider how the love of homosexual couples "reaches outward in a lifetime of service to the community."

"Most folks here would say, 'The Christian thing to do is to be inclusive,'" Carter said in an interview. "If we're going to call ourselves a Christian college, then we can't be exclusive. We can't say, 'We'll protect you, but we're not going to protect you because of your sexual orientation or your gender identity.'"

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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