Fresno Pacific on ‘shame list’ of colleges said to discriminate against LGBT students

Fresno Pacific University
Fresno Pacific University Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Fresno Pacific University is among more than 100 colleges nationwide on a “shame list” alleging discrimination against LGBT students.

Campus Pride, a national LGBT college support organization, released its first-annual shame list Monday of colleges that it deems dangerous for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Fresno Pacific is among nearly 20 campuses listed in California, all of them interdenominational or church-based colleges.

The shame list highlights campuses that have received or requested Title IX exemptions, or demonstrated a history of anti-LGBT practices. Title IX is a civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities.

In 2014, President Barack Obama issued a guideline extending the protection to transgender students and employees, saying Title IX bans “discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.” Last year, a federal judge in California ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation falls under the purview of Title IX.

Title IX does not apply to schools controlled by religious organizations. Those schools can be exempt from the law if they explain which regulations conflict with their beliefs.

See a list of institutions requesting the religious exemption to Title IX and the Department of Education’s responses

Fresno Pacific received an exemption last year. Spokesman Wayne Steffen said he was aware of the shame list but did not respond to requests for comment.

In a June 2, 2015, letter, Fresno Pacific President Richard Kriegbaum told the U.S. Department of Education that Title IX conflicts with the university’s “freedom to respond to matters of gender identity and activities which are nonconforming with gender stereotypes in accordance with the religious tenets of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren churches.”

Kriegbaum said in the letter that the university uses Mennonite guidelines called the Confession of Faith and is guided by a statement called the “Fresno Pacific Idea.”

“Fresno Pacific University has admitted openly gay students who are willing to choose to live in accordance with the Confession of Faith and the Fresno Pacific Idea,” he said. “However, in keeping with our biblical beliefs regarding the morality of actions, we cannot in good conscience support or encourage an individual to live in conflict with biblical principles in any area, including gender and gender identity.”

The university was granted exemption from more than 15 Title IX provisions, including preferences in admission, housing, athletics and employment “to the extent that they are interpreted to address gender identity discrimination” and conflict with the university’s values.

Fresno Pacific has campuses in north Fresno, Bakersfield, Visalia and Merced that serve around 3,500 students and employ about 700 people.

Last year, the Human Rights Campaign released a report called, “Hidden discrimination: Title IX religious exemptions putting LGBT students at risk.” It says the rate of schools seeking exemptions increased drastically from just one school in 2013 to more than 43 last year.

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said it’s important to note which universities have Title IX exemptions because, often, students and faculty didn’t know. But for all the religious colleges that are on the shame list, he said, there are many others that choose to be inclusive. For example, Pepperdine, which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, had a Title IX exemption but withdrew it.

Windmeyer said universities like Fresno Pacific shouldn’t receive taxpayer money through federal and state funding. And he said people assume students have a choice about where they want to study, but that’s not always the case if, say, their family members attended the school or are paying for it.

A Facebook page for Fresno Pacific Pride describes it as a group of Christian, affirming LGBT students and allies at Fresno Pacific “who have formed a private underground community.”

“The main problems that we see in the Fresno Pacific community (are) the isolation, pain, and fear of LGBTQ people,” it reads. “Our desire is to create a place of love and unity for LGBTQ and straight allies, where one can be open, vulnerable, and find unconditional acceptance.”

This isn’t the first time Fresno Pacific has come under fire for its views on sexual orientation and gender identity. Last year, two adjunct professors resigned and one decided not to return after the end of the semester when they read an official Fresno Pacific blog post written by Kriegbaum about the university’s position against gay marriage.

A recent controversial California bill would require private religious colleges like Fresno Pacific to publicly disclose their exempt status from non-discrimination laws so prospective students are aware of the rules, according to The Sacramento Bee. Senate Bill 1146 also requires colleges to notify the state Student Aid Commission, which oversees Cal Grants, each time a student is expelled for violating a school’s moral code of conduct.

Fresno Pacific is being represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit that defends religious rights. Becket Fund attorney Eric Rassbach said SB 1146 unlawfully targets religious colleges for taking advantage of the “long-standing federal accommodations” provided under Title IX.

Andrea Castillo: 559-441-6279, @andreamcastillo