BY KAREN OCAMB | Veterans of the anti-gay marriage Prop 8 wars will recognize the hysterical propaganda tactics used today by religious right groups opposed to ending anti-LGBT discrimination in California. The latest target is SB 1146, Uncovering Discrimination in Higher Education, authored by out State Sen. Ricardo Lara. Despite an onslaught of anti-LGBT hate couched in religious rhetoric, the amended bill passed the Assembly on Tuesday, Aug. 23, and is headed back to the Senate where it is expected to pass and move on to Gov. Brown’s desk.
It is useful to remember that the successful Prop 8 campaign became a model for a wave of anti-gay initiatives and electoral rhetoric that subsequently swept the nation. Today the fight for LGBT civil rights is over “religious liberties” and some of the same hateful forces that backed Prop 8 are touting SB 1146 as the latest threat in the “war” on Christianity, while the forces backing equality claim the bill is an attempt to end hurtful discrimination against LGBT people.
According to sponsor Equality California, SB 1146 would “increase transparency in higher education by requiring institutions affiliated with religious organizations to publicly disclose exemptions to nondiscrimination law that they claim and allow prospective students or employees to make an informed decision about attending school or accepting employment.”
Essentially the bill would require private religious colleges and universities that take tax-payer dollars (through Cal Grants) and claim a Title IX religious exemption enabling them to discriminate against LGBT employees and students to disclose that exemption in their public materials and to reveal the number of expulsions and firings based on enforcement of their moral code. Such public disclosure would serve as an education tool forewarning prospective LGBT people and straight allies about what they might expect from the bible-based institution.
California MassResistance, spawn of the Mormon-centric Massachusetts-based anti-LGBT organization that recruited Catholic Church backing on both Prop 22 and Prop 8, called SB 1146 the “Kill Christian Colleges Bill.” MassResistance is one of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a hard core of smaller groups, most of them religiously motivated, [that] have continued to pump out demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities. These groups’ influence reaches far beyond what their size would suggest, because the “facts” they disseminate about homosexuality are often amplified by certain politicians, other groups and even news organizations.”
Brian Camenker, president of the national MassResistance told LifeSiteNews: “They want to force Christian colleges to help the LGBT movement humiliate them, harass them, and ultimately destroy them.”
California MassResistance’s Arthur Schaper called SB 1146 a “monstrous intrusion on our liberties” with “an onerous reporting requirement” intended to “publicly ‘shame’ the colleges and make them a target for retribution by radical LGBT groups, liberal governments and corporations, and possible lawsuits.”
Interestingly, it was the religiously-based Boy Scouts of America that won a Supreme Court decision in 2000 for the right to unabashedly discriminate against gays as a private institution based largely on their code to be “morally straight.” It wasn’t until July 2015 that the BSA leadership decided to end its ban on gay scout leaders after a change of attitude by chapter leaders and troops.
Unlike the BSA, however, many of the 32 private religious schools participate in the Cal Grants program, funded by California tax-payers who might not agree with the school’s religious bias against LGBT people. Nonetheless, as in the Prop 8 wars, the religious right framed the bill with an apocalyptic scenario.
“This recent attempt to force Christian colleges to promote sin by employing those who openly defy their Christian faith and mission is reminiscent of atheistic regimes that tried to stamp out Christianity,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mathew D. Staver—the man who brought Kentucky clerk Kim Davis to national attention—told LifeSiteNews. “The secular state is at war with Christianity and those who hold Judeo-Christian values…. California is leading the charge down this dangerous and tyrannical path.”
Lara modified the bill to assuage anti-LGBT critics and take a deeper look at the issues — a change greeted by many of the Christian universities with relief, support and a claim of victory. William Jessup University President John Jackson said his university “can support a bill that includes the disclosure requirements of SB 1146 as previously written,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
“SB 1146 cleared the legislature with its main provisions intact,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “This was not, as some of the bill’s opponents are asserting, a victory for the religious right, nor does it constitute any sort of retreat for its supporters. SB 1146 will allow prospective students or employees of these schools to make an informed decision before they enroll or accept a job offer.”
In response, MassResistance turned on those who accepted the compromise: “In the opinion of many close observers, the Christian college leaders were willing to give in because they simply don’t have the stomach to take on the LGBT lobby and Democratic machine.”
And it is Schaper who laid on the shame: “The Christian colleges did a shameful thing by not doubling-down and demanding the full removal of this legislation, which never should have been introduced in the first place,” he said.
Just like Prop 22 and Prop 8, the opponents of SB 1146 featured Mormon-based MassResistance, the Catholic Church, through L.A. Catholic Archbishop José Gomez and conservative evangelical Bishop Charles Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ. The latter two issued a joint statement before the compromise saying: “As it is written today, SB 1146 would violate the religious freedom of faith-based colleges and could jeopardize higher educational opportunities for the tens of thousands of Californians they serve, including many who are black, Latino, Asian and low-income.”
Lara is deeply sensitive to the plight of low-income minority students who use Cal Grants to achieve a higher education. But he also feels deeply for the LGBT student or employee who often suffers in silence when a private academic institution enforces its religious moral code based simply on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“With SB1146, we shed light on the appalling discriminatory practices LGBT students face at private religious universities in California,” Lara said in an email. “No university should have a license to discriminate, especially those receiving state funds. That’s why I will update my bill to ensure that Title 9 universities disclose their exempt status publicly and require that universities notify the California Student Aid Commission if a student has been expelled due to their moral conduct clauses. As a gay Catholic man, nobody can dictate how I worship or practice my religion. These provisions represent critical first steps in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.”
Pressuring Lara to amend his bill was a group of six universities that formed a new committee, Association of Faith Based Institutions, and spent $$350,000 flooding the districts of targeted assemblymembers decrying the attack on religious freedom during this election year. Despite subsequent support from association members such as Jessup President Jackson, after the compromise was made and it was clear that Cal Grant funding was not impacted in any way, a number of Democrats with difficult re-elections still declined to vote in favor of the bill.
The final vote on SB 1146 was 45-28 with seven abstentions, with three assembly Democrats voting “no” and five abstaining. One Republican, Catharine Baker, unexpectedly voted “aye.” According to Equality California Legislative Manager Jo Michael, the Democrats who voted “no” were: Joaquin Arambula, Jacqui Irwin, and Rudy Salas. The Democrats who did not vote or who abstained were: Cheryl Brown, Ken Cooley, Adam Gray, Patty Lopez, Adrin Nazarian. Some of these assemblymembers were from split districts and others faced a district outcry, thanks to the anti-LGBT mailers and conservative media.
But there were quiet heroes, too, not only for their vote but for their responses facing attacks afterwards.
This is not a trifle. This election year, the country is deeply divided and openly hostile, with a frightening trend of “alt-right” white nationalismunderpinning conservative media. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the anti-LGBT religious right is capitalizing on that sentiment while simultaneously and unscrupulously courting black religious conservatives to their cause. In one story about SB 1146 and “the LGBT agenda,” for instance, the conservative site points out that “Sen. Lara is an openly practicing homosexual and a member of the legislature’s LGBT Caucus. He was born to parents who came from Mexico to the United States illegally.”
And just as SCLC/LA director Rev. Eric Lee and NAACP/California director Alice Huffman endured a barrage of attacks when they courageously supported marriage equality during the Prop 8 wars in 2008-–before the late civil rights icon Julian Bond said “gay rights are civil rights” (see his powerful speech here) – the attacks on pro-equality African Americans who favor SB 1146 have been scurrilous, lead in large part by Pastor Marc Little of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood with encouragement from MassResistance.
Two weeks ago, Little’s team went to lobby Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer against SB 1146. They left a letter in the office that read, in part: “this is an attempt to choose one group, perceived to be discriminated against, over a 300-year history in the U.S. without any demonstrable evidence of any discrimination. Accordingly, the entire effort is a mockery of fairness and legislative integrity. Private institutions can and do provide information to the state already; a state mandate intended to protect a certain class is an overreach.”
Jones-Sawyer’s chief of staff, Joey Hill, became furious and called Little’s office, leaving a voice-mail expressing his outrage over what he called a “ridiculously hateful letter” and calling on the pastor to find some love in his heart.
After Little posted the audio on the church’s Facebook page, all hell broke loose. “Absolutely Shameful and Disrespectful toward a man of God! The enemy has taken control of our Government. Thanks to all Spiritual Leaders that is and has taken a stand against this abomination. Bill SB1146 is against everyone word of God that protects the rights of Christians. Why shud (sic)we go against our beliefs in living or accepting sin. It is sin and the word of God says so,” wrote Carla I Richards.
Ultra-conservative Lion Chasers Radio with Lonnie Poindexter picked up the subsequent calls for Hill to be fired on several segments of Urban Family Talk Radio. There’s even a Change.org petition, which has garnered 53 supporters.
MassResistance also got into the act, mocking the idea of LGBT people being treated as a “protected” class. “Being black is not a sin, perversion, or a crime, not does it lead to syndemic health problems. Homosexual behavior and transgenderism are destructive behaviors. We need to love the sinner, but hate the sin,” Schaper wrote on his blog. “Now, men and women of faith and conscience–including all members of California MassResistance, stand with you in the fight of faith.”
But Joey Hill was not the only one annoyed by the Little’s behavior. Assemblymember Autumn Burke was clearly upset by how the pastor’s team treated a gay staffer. Her response should warm the hearts and inspire every LGBT student and employee and straight ally for whom she, Jones-Sawyer, Lara and Equality California are standing.
Burke’s statement reads:
“Dear Bishop Ulmer,
‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.’ Matthew 5:11
In the legislature, contention over issues is expected but I am especially disturbed by the recent actions of opponents to Senate Bill 1146. SB 1146 simply calls for more transparency to ensure LGBT students are protected from discrimination in private and religious institutions of higher learning.
My integrity and that of my colleagues has been called into question for supporting SB 1146. But what integrity is there in promoting segregation and hostility towards the LGBT community? Evident in the recent attacks on the LGBT community in Orlando and threats here in California, such hostility contributes to a culture of hate that takes lives. As a black woman and mother, I simply refuse to stand idly by while hate and segregation are encouraged.
Several members of the Faithful Central Bible Church stopped by my office recently to express their concern with SB 1146 and instead of being respectful, they decided to personally attack and question the faith of one of my staffers simply because he is gay. The same group then went to the office of Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer and started another confrontation by exclaiming, ‘I don’t want my sons and daughters to be taught to be homosexual.’
The chief of staff to Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer subsequently left a voicemail to Pastor Marc Little where he expressed his outrage over the antagonizing manner in which his staff was addressed. I do not agree with the language used, but I do agree with the sentiment that Pastor Marc Little’s delegation message is devoid of historical context, respect, and compassion.
In the 1960s, opponents [of the Civil Rights Movement] used the same argument – that laws intended to protect a certain class were an overreach – in a failed attempt to deny access to voting, housing, and fair employment. During this time, the church community played an integral role in guaranteeing civil rights by serving as a source of unity and empathy.
There is no justifiable exception for [not] extending compassion to the LGBT community, many of whom are people of color.
I remain committed to SB 1146 and other efforts that add to the progress we have achieved as a diverse community.”
— This article first appeared on the Equality California website.