Belmont Adds Sexual Orientation To Non-Discrimination Policy
by Amanda Hara
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Belmont University said they have amended their current non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation. The move comes after the departure of the women's soccer coach Lisa Howe in December.
Belmont University President Dr. Bob Fisher made the announcement at a news conference on the Belmont University campus Wednesday afternoon.
The Board of Trustees voted to amend the policy at a meeting on Wednesday.
A new clause has been added to the anti-discrimination policy which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The change came after more than a month conducting focus groups and interviews on the topic of sexual orientation.
Fisher said the university has always maintained an anti discrimination policy for gays and lesbians. The Board of Trustees decided to make it official, and put that long standing policy down on paper.
While the wording in Belmont's mission statement has changed, Dr. Fisher wasn't able to explain whether or not University policy will be affected.
Reporter Amanda Hara said, "You're saying that you want to be tolerant of people with different sexual orientations but yet you won't tell us if people are allowed to be openly gay and work here?"
"I'm not responding you can go ahead and ask that about three different times and the same answer every time," President Fisher responded.
"I'm just giving you an opportunity to be transparent," Amanda Hara replied.
President Fisher went on to say "Well thank you very much."
President Fisher said one of the questions asked during those focus groups was whether or not students and faculty felt welcome at Belmont. The answer? Overall, most students did up until December when soccer coach Lisa Howe resigned.
School leaders refused to comment about the controversy with Lisa Howe, and insisted that the debacle had nothing to do with Wednesday's announcement. The President said it was a matter of putting a long standing policy down on paper.
Lisa Howe left the university abruptly in December, after revealing to her team that her same-sex partner was pregnant. Students led several protests on the campus, claiming she was forced out because of her sexuality.
Belmont, however, released a statement that Howe was not fired, but she did not resign.
Students on Belmont's campus had a mixed reaction to Wednesday's announcement.
"I think it was a way of kind of modernizing, even though we are a Christian university. It was necessary," said student Tyler Hancock.
"It's a private institution, if you want to go somewhere that is under the state and government law and that stuff, go to a public school. Do that, it's a choice," said student Grayson Akerly.
"I think it remains to be seen whether or not it will actually come out in their actions," said student Kevin Foster.
Howe's attorney responded to Belmont's policy change.
"It's a good first step," Abby Rubenfeld said.
But the attorney does have concerns about the amended policy after hearing Dr. Fisher would not answer a reporter's questions about Belmont allowing openly gay people to work at the university.
"Given Dr. Fisher's response to the question about what the policy means, it's kind of troubling and I'm not sure if they've take the next step. The next necessary step after adding the words is to make sure the words have some meaning," Rubenfeld explained.
Chris Sanders from the GBLT advocacy group, the Tennessee Equality Project, said he is optimistic about Belmont's decision to add the words sexual orientation to its non discrimination policy.
"We are hopeful they've opened a new door and it's not merely to diffuse past controversy. We'll see," Sanders said.