Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 7, Numbers 1 & 2
(July 2003)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Kellogg Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good: Contributing to the Practice of Democracy
Tribal Colleges and Universities: Guided by Tribal Values
Commitment to Diversity in Institutional Mission Statements
Valuing Equity: Recognizing the Rights of the LGBT Community
Creating Border Crossings: Dickinson College at Home and Abroad
Prejudice Across America: A Nationwide Trek
The Accountability Side of Diversity
Percent Plans: How Successful Are They?
Campus Life for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People
Multimedia, Books and Conferences
The E Pluribus Unum Project

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 diversity materials.

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 members.

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.

Non-Discrimination 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 or www.lgbtcampus.org.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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