Valuing Equity: Recognizing the Rights
of the LGBT Community
By Daniel Phoenix Singh, director of information
technology and Heather D. Wathington, editor, AAC&U
Imagine learning that your partner has become seriously
ill. You rush to the hospital to see your loved one.
But before you can see them a nurse asks you if you
are a family relative. You state that you are family--
the partner of the patient. You enter the emergency
care unit, only to learn that your partner is in need
of major surgery. While you are concerned about your
partner's health, you are able to rest easy--knowing
that you have domestic partner benefits to cover any
and all medical costs. (www.Lgbtcampus.org)
Nearly 400 colleges and
universities have written non-discrimination policies
in place that include sexual orientation. These
policies appear in employee handbooks or manuals
and are publicized on Web sites, employment and
admissions applications and announcements, and
This is the reality at more than 100 colleges and
universities who extend domestic partner benefits (DPB)
to staff and faculty. As higher education institutions
have increasingly recognized the value of a diverse
community, many have implemented DPB policies that prohibit
discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
(LGBT) individuals. (www.lgbtcampus.org)
In fact, many institutions are creating more equitable
campus communities by expressly including and recognizing
LGBT individuals. In addition to domestic partner benefits,
institutions are also creating inclusive non-discrimination
policies. Both are designed to improve the quality of
life for LGBT persons, the institutional climate, and
the campus learning environment. The policies are also
intended to recognize the rights and value of LGBT community
Domestic Partner Benefits
Domestic partner benefits are often defined as applying
to those in a long-term, committed relationship between
two people that is a mutual commitment similar to that
of marriage. But employers often set their own definitions
of "domestic partner" when determining DPB.
Some institutions grant benefits to both same-sex and
opposite-sex couples, but most often the benefits extend
to same-sex partners only. Benefits typically include
health insurance, dental care, relocation expenses,
etc. Currently, over 100 universities offer DPB including
six Big Ten institutions, all Ivy League institutions,
and several state universities, including the entire
University of California system. Several institutions
began to make changes in the early nineties, but the
vast majority has instituted benefits within the last
few years. Institutions began offering benefits to attract
and retain the most talented faculty and staff and to
build a vibrant, just learning community.
Domestic partner benefits vary depending upon the institution.
At Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, domestic partners
of employees are eligible for the same benefits granted
to those of a married spouse. These benefits grant inclusion
in the employee's health insurance and dental
insurance, courtesy scholarships, and access to university
facilities (e.g. library, the Physical Education Center,
etc.). In addition, domestic partners are considered
family members when granting the employee sick, medical,
family, and funeral leave.
Domestic partners of Emory students are eligible to
utilize university facilities as well, but are unable
to receive employee health benefits because Emory does
not subsidize student health and dental insurance.
In Oregon, state law requires all public agencies to
provide DPB to all same-sex partners and their legal
dependents equal to the benefits provided to married
partners and their legal dependents. Hence, at Lane
Community College in Eugene, Oregon, insurance, family
tuition waiver benefits, and leave benefits apply to
domestic partners and (where applicable) to the legal
dependents of domestic partners. Lane's policy
is noteworthy because few institutions include the legal
dependents of domestic partners in their policies.
Nearly 400 colleges and universities have written non-discrimination
policies in place that include sexual orientation. These
policies appear in employee handbooks or manuals and
are publicized on Web sites, employment and admissions
applications and announcements, and diversity materials.
Non-discrimination policies state that discrimination
will not be tolerated, outline what qualifies as discrimination,
and explain the consequences for violating such policies.
In addition, most policies provide for an investigation
into any allegations of discrimination.
Maintaining strong non-discrimination policies is important
because discrimination occurs frequently. The Human
Rights Campaign's Documenting Discrimination Project
has hundreds of case stories that document discrimination
toward LGBT persons. Dr. Susan Rankin of Pennsylvania
State University found that 36 percent of the LGBT undergraduates
in her recent study experienced some form of discrimination.
In addition, because there is no federal law that protects
the rights of LGBT individuals, it is important for
colleges and universities to afford such protection.
Some institutions--namely, University of Iowa,
Brown University, and the State University of New York
system--also recognize gender identity in their
non-discrimination policies, ensuring that the rights
of transgendered individuals are equally protected.
Indeed, there are many steps to ensuring equity for
LGBT individuals. Domestic partner benefits and non-discrimination
policies are key steps in the right direction and they
are important policy initiatives that illustrate the
value an institution places on fairness and equity for
each and every member of the campus community.
For more information about domestic partner benefits
and non-descrimination policies, see www.hrc.org