The U.S. Education Department has been granting waivers to religious schools requesting them, “an exemption to parts of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars gender discrimination by educational institutions,” according to a 2014 story in Inside Higher Ed.
And now, while the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) has spoken out against an Indiana law allowing businesses to discriminate based on sexual and gender orientation, critics say too little, too late as other states have passed similar legislation. It’s also being pointed out that the organization is not addressing discrimination from its own member institutions, some of which have been requesting and receiving waivers.
Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s president, said that the association would consider no longer hosting playoffs in states with such laws, adding that the issue is “simply far too important to all of our member schools.”
But, as a growing number of religious NCAA institutions request and receive waivers allowing them to discriminate against LGBT athletes, in particular transgender students, advocates are asking why the NCAA hasn’t taken such a proactive stance with its own membership.
“These requests are directly in conflict with the NCAA’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion of all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Campus Pride and Soulforce wrote in a letter signed by 80 other LGBT rights groups last month. “The Title IX waiver allows campus administrators to deny transgender students admission, usage of public accommodations and protections against anti-LGBTQ actions from students and faculty — all based on a student’s gender identity.”
The letter asked the NCAA to “divest from all religious-based campuses who have requested these discriminatory waivers.”
In 2014, many advocates for gay and transgender students were surprised to learn that the Education Department had granted to a number of colleges exemptions from parts of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that, in theory, bar discrimination in areas such as housing, admissions and educational opportunities.
The NCAA is at present choosing not to take any actions.
For now, at least, the NCAA does not plan on taking the risk.
In a response to Campus Pride’s letter, Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s chief inclusion officer and its vice president of education and community engagement, said that while it is “committed to supporting a student-athlete experience that prioritizes student health, safety and well-being,” and offers several resources promoting inclusion of LGBT athletes, it also aims to preserve “individual institutional values.”
“In doing so, the landscape of higher education offers students the opportunity to select from schools that value various attributes,” Franklin wrote. “While it is not our role to tell schools whom they should admit, the goal of higher education is to promote students making a decision based on their ability to evaluate multiple schools to find one that best meets their needs to be successful.”
Gail Dent, associate director of public and media relations at the NCAA, reiterated last week that the association “values diversity and inclusion and its importance in education,” noting that the NCAA does not have a role in interpreting and enforcing Title IX. The NCAA took a stronger stance on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act last year, Dent said, because the association’s national office — with more than 500 employees — is housed in the state’s capital and was directly affected by the law.