More than 80 LGBT sports, religious and youth advocacy groups have signed on to a public letter calling on the NCAA to divest from schools requesting religious exemptions from Title IX regulations that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Led by Campus Pride, a nonprofit student organization, and Soulforce, a faith-based LGBT rights organization founded by former evangelical ghostwriter Mel White, the coalition rose in response to recent reports that dozens of Christian colleges — many owned by state conventions of Southern Baptists — have requested a previously little-used religious-liberty waiver since the Education Department decided in 2014 to extend Title IX protection to transgender students.
“The NCAA cannot stand for this outright discrimination among its member institutions,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, “and we urge them to take action to ensure an inclusive sports culture that is safe and fair for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Soulforce, currently led by Haven Herrin, former co-director of the Equality Ride, a young adult bus tour set to get underway this year March 13-15 in Nashville, Tenn., organized protests Feb. 9 at Christian college campuses across the country in a campaign called #GiveBackIX.
The March 9 letter piggybacks on “March Madness,” informal name of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament that begins first-round play March 17. It says more than half of the 59 campuses documented with discriminatory waivers are participating members of the NCAA.
The letter asks the NCAA to divest from all religious-based colleges and universities that have requested or received waivers, citing the organization’s “longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion of all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“The transgender population faces systemic discrimination that leads to disproportionate rates of poverty, suicide and murders,” the letter says. “For students who are privileged enough to be admitted to institutions of higher education, there should not be added harm and adversity from their school’s administration. Schools that are affiliated with the NCAA should be dedicated to fostering a campus that allows all students to flourish both academically and in co-curricular activities such as athletics.”
“As people of faith or spirit, we call upon the NCAA to act on its stated values as an LGBTQ inclusive organization and divest from these schools who are willfully and intentionally creating unsafe environments for LGBTQ students,” said Jordyn Sun, national campus organizer at Soulforce.
“No athlete should play sports under the specter of fear and discrimination,” Sun said. “Instead, these schools should simply follow the law.”
The campaign comes during a time when several high-profile NCAA members — including Super Bowl-winning quarterback Peyton Manning’s University of Tennessee football team and Baptist-affiliated Baylor University — are under scrutiny over alleged Title IX violations in response to allegations of sexual assault.