UNCASG defeats LGBT-inclusive proposal

UNCASG logoThe University of North Carolina Association of Student Governments (UNCASG), the state-wide student government of The University of North Carolina System, held their General Assembly meeting on Saturday, April 22, 2006, at East Carolina University in Greenville. ECU Student Body President M. Cole Jones and the Student Government of ECU played fine hosts to the event making sure that the UNCASG delegations’ needs were met throughout Friday and Saturday.

Among the many items on the UNCASG General Assembly’s agenda was the approval of Constitutional revisions. In a past post (here), I wrote about a resolution passed by the UNCG Student Senate and Government which was sent to UNCASG. The resolution was presented on Saturday and I made a motion to amend the UNCASG Constitutional Equal Opportunity Clause by adding gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression and socioeconomic status.

Needless to say, the motion did not pass. Only six out of approximately fifty delegates voted in favor of the proposal, although there were also many abstentions. A big thanks goes out to the four delegates from UNCG and two delegates from Western Carolina University who supported the move to make UNCASG more equal, accepting and welcoming of all students.

There was not much debate after I made the motion, in fact I never even received my right to first debate, which I was entitled to as the one who made the motion. Parliamentary procedure was not followed by disallowing me to have the right to first debate and it was later broken when debate was called to end and the proper procedures were not followed then. Even when debate was called to end and I made the body aware that I had not received my right to first debate, I still did not get a chance to speak. Answering one question and responding to another comment was not sufficient time for me to debate my motion and give reasons for why I made it. While it was unintended by out-going Senior Vice President Laura DeCastro, I feel as though I was silenced during the General Assembly meeting.

One of the most harmful remarks made during debate, and probably the one which caused such a negative response was that the Constitution of the State of North Carolina prohibited us from recognizing sexual orientation in our equal opportunity clause (aka, non-discrimination statement). When this comment was made, other delegates rose to say that we needed more research and that this should be sent to UNC Counsel.

I must say that the delegate who stood up with the remark regarding the Constitution needs to seriously go back and read the thing… either that or he needs to go talk to a lawyer. Although the State Constitution does not include sexual orientation, neither does it prohibit its recognition in non-discrimination statements. If his claims were true multiple non-discrimination and equal opportunity statements and policies across our state would be made null and void, including the policies of UNCG, Western Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill, Mecklenburg County, Guilford County Public Schools, the City of Greensboro, etc.

What the delegate was referring to was not non-discrimination policies, but rather free speech and hate speech policies. He is right in that respect: Policies cannot limit speech, but policies CAN and DO recognize that discrimination against LGBT people is wrong and illegal (i.e. UNCG, Western Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill, etc.)

As much as the proposal’s defeat upset me, I must realize that not all is lost. After the motion was defeated, out-going UNC-Wilmington President Bradley Ballou made a motion, seconded by UNC-Charlotte President-elect & current Vice President Ben Comstock, that the proposal be further researched and brought back to the body at a later date. That motion passed.

UNCASG also elected its new President and Senior Vice President at the last meeting. I am confident that President-elect Derek Pantiel (from NCCU) and Senior Vice President-elect Dan Fischer (from UNCG) will do all that they can to see that this issue is resolved.

But… seeing as though I did not get the proper chance to debate my motion at the meeting, here is the text of the debate I would have given if I would have had the chance:

The UNC Association of Student Governments has a unique opportunity today to not only recognize the struggles and pains of many of our students, but also to take the steps in beginning to address those issues and to protect those who we represent. Today represents an open window of opportunity… a window in which we can peer through the centuries, decades and years of discrimination and prejudice targeting and affecting many types of people. It is a window through which we might also possibly see the future… a future where these historically and institutionalized forms of discrimination and prejudice might someday no longer exist.

The proposal which I have brought to you today includes four new categories which I think should be added to our Constitutional Equal Opportunity Clause. Those four categories are broken into two different groups, directly because of their distinctly unique issues and characters. The first group consists of socioeconomic status, a category which I will spend no time discussing here, as I think we will all agree that all students regardless of income or wealth have a right to equal opportunity in this Association.

The second group consists of sexual orientation, gender and gender identity/expression. These three categories have, by far, been among some of the most contentiously debated topics not only here, but throughout our state, our nation and our world and it is to these categories I turn my attention.

Throughout the history of Western Civilization, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have often been the victims of some of the most brutal and un-imaginable crimes and abuses known to man, along with being subject to laws and policies which not only made their love illegal, but also sentenced them to prison for their actions. The Inquisitions in Europe sought out homosexuals and burnt them at the stake. It is from this we get the derogatory word “faggot”, for the fires built to kill LGBT people were fueled by nothing more than faggots, or more specifically, bundles of sticks. The Nazi regime arrested some 100,000 homosexual men, imprisoned 50,000 and sent up to 15,000 to concentration camps where up to as many as 60% of those men ultimately perished (1) due to starvation, brutal rape and sexual assault, murder, or horrible scientific, guinea pig experiments gone wrong. In America, crimes motivated by bias based upon sexual orientation were ranked second highest according to the FBI’s most recent Hate Crimes statistics. Out of all hate crimes involving murder, those motivated by bias based upon sexual orientation ranked number one with race and religion being the number two motivations for these crimes (2). On the law and policy side of the debate, it was only recently, in 2003, that the United States Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws, making it possible for the first time for LGBT couples in our country to show their love without threat of fine or imprisonment. In America today, discrimination and prejudice continue against LGBT people. From Constitutional amendments writing discrimination into our state and national Constitutions to laws which allow landlords to kick LGBT people out of their homes, welfare and child agencies to take children away from LGBT parents, school administrators to kick out LGBT students, hospital administrators to disallow the visitation of the sick and dying by life-long partners due to them not being legally recognized family members, private organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America to allow discrimination and prejudice simply because they can, and so on and so on.

From the time this debate originally began at the last ASG meeting, I have heard many reasons and justifications for not including sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the Equal Opportunity Clause. In my opinion none of the reasons or justifications I have heard thus far are sound enough nor adequate enough to keep these categories out of the Constitution.

It has been suggested that we not add these terms to the Equal Opportunity Clause and that our purpose would be better served in a policy statement. This is in and of itself discriminatory. By saying that our position against anti-LGBT discrimination does not deserve to be in the Equal Opportunity Clause along with other types of historically institutionalized discrimination we automatically place LGBT people on a different plain, a lower plain… a plain which says we accept LGBT people, as long as you remain out of sight and, most importantly, out of our Constitution.

It has also been suggested that since UNC System policy and state and federal law do not recognize anti-LGBT discrimination then we do not have to recognize it either. Just because current laws and policies do not recognize something as wrong, does not mean that that certain action isn’t. I think we could all admit, for example, that denying women the right to vote based simply upon their physical sex has always been and will always be wrong, even though for hundreds of years the law not only ignored the fact that it was wrong, but also give it standing as a legal action and practice. No matter what current law or policy says, we should stand up and do what we know is right. We should protect those who in our current political and social climate need it the most.

I urge you to approve this proposal. LGBT students in the UNC System should have a guarantee that at least this group, at least this body, will recognize them, protect them and represent them. It is important for LGBT students and citizens to know they are protected and represented here, especially because they are not recognized or protected anywhere on the state level. It is also important for us to ask this question: If we really do not have a problem with discrimination against LGBT people, as some here have said, then why are we afraid to make our stance known and approve this proposal?

Maybe… just maybe, North Carolina college students will lead the charge once more toward changing our social and political landscape. Maybe this is the beginning of a more equal and respectful North Carolina. The sad thing, however, is that we will never know unless we try.

Matt Hill Comer, with assistance from Joshua Henson
Intended debate speech for Equal Opportunity Clause, UNCASG
April 22, 2006, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC

(1) http://www.holocaust-trc.org/homosx.htm
(2) http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=6746

More information, including quotes from debate and the exact vote total (including yea’s, nay’s and abstentions) will come as soon as I can get the official minutes.

More UNCASG updates and past posts available here.

6 Responses to “UNCASG defeats LGBT-inclusive proposal”
  1. Samantha says:

    I am so mad about this, I thank you and those delegates that voted in favor of the proposal. It’s ridiculous what happened meaning you did not have the chance to even debate (which was really wrong), I think if they heard what you had to say they’d really re-consider their vote or open their minds to what they really were voting for and its impact of its passage.

  2. that would have been a really good speech

  3. Matt,

    Thank you for an informative and well written account of the Association of Student Governments meeting. Though it appears you and I are destined to be on opposite sides of some of these issues, and though I cannot say I regret the final outcome of the vote, I can say, 1) I feel a certain sense of local pride as it were watching you develop as a statesman and a politician (in the good sense), 2) I never like outcomes to come about through parlimentary tricks or parlimentary goofs, even if I agree with them, and 3) I admire your dogged and patient longer term view. You may well carry the day by wearing down your opponents! Well done, Matt. Joel.

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks for your kind words Joel. Yeah… I think we will probably never agree on some these issues either.

    It is sad that the outcome of the vote was most likely do to, 1) Confusion (some delegates thought they were voting on the UNCG resolution and not my MOTION), and 2) the incorrect comment concerning the Constitution of North Carolina.

    I am humbled that you believe I am transforming into a good statesman and politician. I sometimes think the opposite: I sometimes tend to be horrible at being a politician. I’ve had too many people, including people in the UNCG Student Senate, pull one over on me to be a good politician.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] With the UNC System still hanging in the shadow of an overwhelming defeat of LGBT inclusive legislation in the UNC Association of Student Governments in mid-April, the more bright side isn’t far away. […]

  2. […] The same must be done by the General Assembly of the UNC Association of Student Governments, which just last April voted down a proposal to add sexual orientation, gender, gender-identity/expression and socioeconomic status to its equal opportunity statement. In that April vote, only six out of approximately sixty-four delegates from each UNC constituent campus voted in favor of the proposal (four of whom were delegates from UNCG, the school from which the original, more far-reaching proposal had come and two of whom were delegates from Western Carolina University which had just recently added sexual orientation to their University’s non-discrimination). […]

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