LGBTQ+ students pursue Title IX religious exemptions

Reverend Kalie Hargrove didn’t realize she was transgender until about a decade after she began studying at Lincoln Christian University in Illinois. When she began her transition in 2020, she was a distance learner in her second stint in college, and while she did not offer her gender identity to school officials, she did. didn’t hide either.

In fact, Hargrove wrote an essay for an online publication last June on her identity as a trans woman and a Christian. Somehow — she still doesn’t know how — Lincoln Christian University officials found out about the essay two months later and gave her two choices, she said: withdraw from classes or face disciplinary action.

Publicly identifying as trans violated the school’s student code of conduct, Hargrove told officials.

“It’s so dehumanizing for them to just look at a part of me and say, ‘No, you don’t belong here,'” said Hargrove, an ordained minister studying to become an Old Testament teacher. basically saying they just don’t want me to exist in the same world as them.”

Eventually, Hargrove decided to withdraw from classes. She worried that if she didn’t do it soon, she would miss the window during which her tuition could be reimbursed, she said. But the 34-year-old didn’t go quietly.

A defense group filed a Title IX lawsuit against Lincoln Christian University on behalf of Hargrove in October. Last month the The Ministry of Education has announced that it will investigate whether the university violated Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits government-funded schools from discriminating on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

There is a loophole: denominational schools have long been able to obtain religious derogations in Title IX by providing a written statement to the Ministry of Education detailing which provisions of the law contradict their religious beliefs. Then, in 2020, the Trump administration expanded eligibility so that even institutions that did not formally request exemptions could be covered. dealing with Title IX complaints. So while Lincoln Christian University has never made a formal request for a religious exemption, Hargrove’s attorneys said, the school can still invoke the rule after the fact.

That’s why Hargrove isn’t stopping with the civil rights lawsuit against the school. She joined a class action lawsuit filed in March against the Department of Education, which disputes whether the Title IX religious exemption is constitutional. The lawsuit is being led by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), the same group that filed Hargrove’s Title IX complaint. It says more than 200 colleges and universities that receive federal funding have obtained religious exemptions that allow them to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students. It is not uncommon for these institutions to receive government grants and subsidized loans to cover expenses such as campus construction and repairs. More than 40 students are plaintiffs in the class action.

“We affirm that the exemption, as applied to LGBTQ students, violates students’ constitutional right to equal protection to be free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. gender identity while participating in federally funded educational programs,” said Joe Baxter, a REAP attorney. “We also affirm that the notice requirements of the regulations that were changed under the Trump administration are unconstitutional because they also infringe on our students’ rights to notice, due process, and equal protection.”

The Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment from the 19th about the lawsuit and the civil rights complaint. Lincoln Christian University released a statement on its website Jan. 26 acknowledging that he is the subject of a Title IX investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. “We are responding to OCR and have no further comment at this time,” the statement read.

Hargrove completed two stints at Lincoln Christian University. After first enrolling in 2009, she dropped out of school after a year and a half to support her family financially, serving in the Air Force for nine years. Determined to complete her Master of Divinity, in 2019 she returned to Lincoln, her tuition covered by the Montgomery GI bill.

“I didn’t realize I was trans until I had already been re-accepted and re-enrolled in school and started class,” she said. “I was at a distance and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know if I was going to transition or something. So I decided to go to school there. Then in late spring 2020, I decided to start transitioning and taking hormones, but I still wasn’t in school.

Hargrove believed that even if she walked out, Lincoln would not oust her because of Title IX. Baxter said many students are unaware that religious schools can invoke Title IX exemptions to protect themselves from accusations of bias. Most schools don’t advertise these exemptions, he added, and students generally don’t understand their ramifications.

“Then after the fact they feel completely blindsided and a bit betrayed by their government because they have no protection – especially students like Kalie who spent nine years in the US military,” said- he declared. “She put her life on the line for her country and to be kind of abandoned by her school without any protection, it’s her career and her future income that’s at stake, and it’s really demeaning and demeaning to be abandoned. like this by your government.”

On 12% of students at taxpayer-funded Christian colleges identify as LGBTQ+, according to a 2021 REAP report. Members of the LGBTQ+ community end up in faith-based institutions for a number of reasons, Baxter said. Many only recognized their gender identity or sexual orientation after enrolling in these institutions. Others have received financial aid from these schools or come from religious families who would only pay for religious schools. And some simply live near these colleges and universities, making them convenient places to study. In any case, once enrolled in these institutions, leaving them can be complicated depending on their financial situation or the proximity of graduation, Baxter said.

But it’s nearly impossible to stay at those colleges and universities without being locked down, said Hargrove, now a distance learner at United Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. This school has been incredibly assertive of her gender identity, Hargrove said, but leaving Lincoln means she graduated about a year later than expected because not all of his Lincoln credits transferred. More than the delay in graduation, Hargrove is saddened that leaving Lincoln in many ways means she will be estranged from her religious tradition.

“Lincoln is part of the Independent Christian Church,” she said. “It’s the tradition in which I grew up. I did my undergraduate studies at an Independent Christian Church Bible College and earned my bachelor’s degree in the same tradition. I went to Lincoln originally because it was my tradition, and I went back because it was my tradition. I didn’t just get kicked out of school. I was fired from my tradition.

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