FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 13, 2023
Contact: Joe Baxter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Court Finds LGBTQ+ Students Harmed by Government but Provides No Legal Remedy
Yesterday, the U.S. District Court of the District of Oregon issued its opinion and ruling in Hunter, et al. vs. U.S. Dept. Of Education, et al. The student plaintiffs' reactions/quotes follow the three paragraphs below.
The Court recognized that "Plaintiffs seek a mandate of equal treatment with respect to participation in educational institutions" and determined that the current unequal treatment is caused by the federal government's implementation of the religious exemption to Title IX. The Court stated that "Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that [the federal government] caused Plaintiffs' injuries by implementing a system that permits religiously affiliated schools to use religious exemptions to deny federally-funded educational services to current and prospective students." The Court went on to say that if Plaintiffs were given what they asked for from the Court that it would "result in Plaintiffs receiving the dignity and equal treatment they seek."
We are grateful that the Court recognized the harm Plaintiffs have suffered, but are sad to report that despite this, the Court held that they had not alleged a legal claim for which relief could be granted and dismissed their lawsuit. Instead of holding that Plaintiffs had a right to be protected from discrimination under federal law, the Court held that "[e]xempting religiously controlled educational institutions from Title IX...is substantially related to the government's objective of accommodating religious exercise." The Court further suggested that the Constitution allows the government to exempt these schools from accountability, and even transparency, because to hold them accountable would be an "unwarranted and substantial infringement" of their First Amendment rights.
Because of today’s decision, tens of thousands of LGBTQIA+ students across the country will continue to be discriminated against at universities receiving taxpayer money. The Religious Exemption Accountability Project will continue to fight to protect LGBTQIA+ students' rights on these campuses
Many of the student plaintiffs reacted to the ruling:
"The government's choice to ignore both the injustice done to me, and the injustice weaponized against hundreds of LGBTQ+ students is deeply disappointing. We deserve better, our country deserves better, and history deserves better. The silence and erasure of LGBTQ+ students should not be a precedent. I will never stop advocating for equality and justice. The ruling on this case falls right before Martin Luther King Jr Day - which is no coincidence. As Dr. King once said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Our fight for equality for all LGBTQ+ students is far from over.” — Plaintiff Elizabeth Hunter
"I am disappointed in the ruling. The actions of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice have shown once again that human dignity is optional. I was publicly dehumanized, kicked out of school, received death threats, and had people call for my execution for being a Christian student at a Christian school who happened to be trans, and my Government refused to protect me then, and refuses to protect me now." – Plaintiff Kalie Hargrove
“I feel like this is yet another failing of the federal government toward the LGBTQIA+ community. I am still at the university where I first faced discrimination, still face discrimination because of the way I love. I am hurt that I put my faith and trust in the federal government to hear our stories, to listen to and feel the pain we feel as queer students. But even this was not enough for us to gain the recognition that our rights matter just as much as our Christian counterparts'. This is not the end. If there is anything to come out of this, I know it is merely the start of a movement led by the students failed by the people who were supposed to protect us.” – Plaintiff Veronica Bonifacio Penales
“I am enraged. The court's decision that there is no legal remedy for the harm done to us LGBTQ+ students makes the government complicit in both allowing and perpetuating homophobia and transphobia. Very simply, the court could and should have decided to protect queer students; these taxpayer-funded religious schools ought not be privileged over LGBTQ+ students' safety and vitality.” —Plaintiff Lucas F. W. Wilson, PhD
“This opinion makes me feel like once again, I am less than in the eyes on my alma mater. It’s frustrating that the Court has enough sense to know we’ve been hurt and impacted, but still won’t do anything to prevent this discrimination from continuing to happen. I’m angry that the safety of Queer students hasn’t be taken seriously!” – Plaintiff Rachel Held
“Unlike some people in my family, the federal government at least admits that there is indeed harm being done to us. But in a similar fashion, they refuse to provide any action to correct such harm. It’s devastating, but our fight is far from over.” — Plaintiff Andrew Hartzler
“It’s a devastating blow to us and the thousands of LGBTQIA+ students currently at these schools, who are in real danger because of this policy. My heart is broken, and filled with resolve that we must find ways to keep fighting for the lives, constitutional rights, and dignity of these students.” — Plaintiff Daniel Tidwell-Davis, MDiv
The legal team and plaintiffs are currently considering their options for appeal.
Paul Carlos Southwick
Director, Religious Exemption Accountability Project
Deputy Director, Religious Exemption Accountability Project
Perkins Coie, LLP