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Gay Rights Groups Say Measure Lets Texas Colleges Discriminate Against LGBT Student Groups

Today, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board bypassed a potential legislative sunset, meaning state legislators will not shutter the group’s doors under the Sunset Act.

That bill, however, also contains a contentious little provision in the form of an amendment – a provision that some say would allow college groups to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference and religion.

The amendment from Rep. Matt Krause, R- Fort Worth, would allow officially recognized, religious college organizations the right to ban those who “demonstrate opposition to the organization’s stated beliefs and purposes,” according to language in the amendment.

Paul Huddleston, president of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation, says that the amendment demonstrates a widening disconnect between lawmakers and everyday Texans.

“I think people’s attitudes are changing, and I think those who make the laws are not in tune with real life anymore,” Huddleston says. “It’s sad that we’re in 2013 and there are still lawmakers that are still trying to push for inequality and for legalized discrimination.”

The amendment vote caused friction from lawmakers, with Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris L. Miles of Houston attempting to strike down the amendment with a points of order, arguing that the board could not regulate actions of individual groups on universities, merely the universities themselves.

The amendment, Thompson said in a statement, applied to "individual institutions of higher education and to the relationship of institutions of higher education with student organizations on those campuses" instead of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board itself. 

Lawmakers were relatively split on the issue, with 65 voting against the amendment and 82 supporting it –the entire bill itself passed with only two representatives voting against it. 

Chuck Smith is executive director of Equality Texas, a GLBT advocacy group. He says that the amendment is discouraging, but that it could still be pulled from the bill before the session ends.

We certainly are not pleased to see that it passed, but we were encouraged that it was a close vote,” Smith said. “The process is not over and we will continue as long as that process continues to try remove the amendment from the final version of Senate Bill 215.”

The bill will head to a conference committee between the two houses to reconcile both House and Senate amendments.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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