On August 2, 2016 representatives from various Christian institutions in the San Diego area gathered at PLNU’s Liberty Station, hands raised in prayer in what an intern for the Smee Hall School of Theology and Christian Ministry, Heritage Ganasi, said, was a prayer for “for anti-discrimination Senate Bill 1146 to be overthrown”.
According to the author of the bill, Senator Richard Lara, this law “represents a critical first step in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.”
Senate Bill 1146 “prohibits a person from being subjected to discrimination on the basis of specified attributes, including sex, in any program or activity conducted by a postsecondary educational institution that receives, or benefits from state financial assistance or enrolls students who receive state student financial aid,” said Senator Lara.
Essentially any school that receives federal or state financial assistance is prohibited from excluding students or denying participation because of protected characteristics. Postsecondary institutions that violate this would be subject to the loss of state/federal funding.
PLNU alumnus, Kendra Peterson, conducted an extensive senior honors project in 2016 entitled: The Experience and Wellbeing of LGBTQ+ Youth in Christian Environments. Peterson said, “the goal of this research is to listen to the experiences and stories of young LGBTQ+ individuals and consider the ways in which their lives and insights can shape the construction of safer communities that support the mental, physical, social, and spiritual well being of this community.”
The results from this study were mixed. The nine PLNU students that identified as non-heterosexual revealed that they found both discrimination and acceptance at PLNU. Specifically, many found that the university’s current gender identity policies, which cite that PLNU “affirms that maleness and femaleness are divinely created for each individual and are not matters to be determined by personal preference”, to be extremely harmful not only to students, but also to LGBTQ+ staff members.
Many Christian universities strongly opposed the original version of the bill that also mandates strict adherence to Title IX rules. Ganasi said that the Christian groups at the gathering mentioned above believed that the bill would force Christian schools to sacrifice Cal Grant funding in order to uphold their religious beliefs.
In the final version of the bill, private schools were allowed to be exempt from this mandate, but they must “make specified disclosures to the institution’s current and prospective students, faculty members, and employees, and to the Student Aid Commission, concerning the institutions basis for having the exemption.” This would allow prospective and current students to know that their school isn’t in compliance with Title IX.
Several calls were placed to Senator Lara’s office for comment on this article. Megan Baler, the Senator’s consultant, eventually answered and directed questions to the Chief of Staff in Senator Lara’s office, Erika Contreras. Contreras declined the ability for anyone in the office to comment.
Although the bill was filed September 30, 2016, students at PLNU had begun to speak out for change from discrimination on campus years ago.
PLNU requested exemption from this bill, but the Director of Public Affairs, Jill Monroe, said that the identification of sexual orientation is not a factor in the admissions office.
Monroe added, “PLNU joined with other faith-based universities in an effort to keep Cal Grants available to students at faith-based universities and to continue the practice and integration of religion at these universities.”