Thursday, April 15, 2010

Incoming Florida Atlantic University President Saunders Called On To Address Gay Issues

(Boca Raton, Florida) In the "Price of Silence" lecture at Florida Atlantic University this evening, gay activist Rand Hoch, called on incoming FAU president Mary Jane Saunders to address gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues when she assumes her responsibilities at the state university this summer.

Hoch, who served as Florida's first openly gay judge, is president of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. Since 1988, the Council has persuaded public employers in Florida to enact more than sixty laws and policies benefiting Florida's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents.

The Council began working on gay issues with Florida Atlantic University in 2005. Individual faculty members and the FAU chapter of the United Faculty of Florida have been working on these issues behind the scenes for well over a decade.

Addressing FAU faculty and students in Barry Kaye Hall, Hoch called for an end to the "culture of silence" regarding gay issues at the university.

"For years, those on the FAU faculty and staff who have raised gay issues have felt marginalized or ignored. Some have even been subjected to ridicule for publicly addressing gay concerns," said Hoch. "After a while some of these gay and gay-supportive individuals became silent. Some have told me it wasn't just the marginalization they feared, they feared reprisal."

"Eight of the eleven state universities have clearly written policies which specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation," said Hoch. "But not FAU."

The University of Florida, the University of North Florida, the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of West Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida International University and New College of Florida all have nondiscrimination policies which specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"With Dr. Saunders's leadership, progress could be made," said Hoch. "Send an e-mail to President Sauders welcoming her to Florida Atlantic University. Ask her to set up a task force to specifically address the concerns of your university's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community."

"During his tenure as FAU President, Frank Brogan steadfastly refused to include the words 'sexual orientation' in the nondiscrimination policies and he ignored all requests regarding domestic partner benefits," said Hoch.

Brogan stepped down as the university's president last year to become chancellor for the State University System of Florida.

In 2003, after the FAU Faculty Senate overwhelmingly passed a motion supporting domestic partner benefits, then-Provost Ken Jessell put together a committee to study domestic partner benefits. In its report, the committee strongly recommended that FAU offer domestic partner benefits.

"That was six and one-half years ago,"said Hoch. "FAU still does not offer domestic partner benefits."

More than a dozen of Florida's public universities and colleges now offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. The schools include the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida International University as well as at Brevard Community College, Broward College, Central Florida Community College, Florida Keys Community College, Hillsborough Community College, Lake-Sumter Community College, Manatee Community College, Miami-Dade College, Okaloosa-Walton College, Palm Beach State College, Pasco-Hernando Community College, Santa Fe Community College and Seminole Community College.

"Based on what other state institutions of higher learning are paying to implement domestic partner benefits in their workplaces, the cost of offering domestic partner benefits at FAU would probably be around $35,000 - basically the cost that any two of FAU's 22,000 students pay to attend the school for one year," Hoch predicted.

Cleveland State University, where Dr. Saunders served as provost, maintains a Safe Space Program whose goal is to create visible peer support and awareness of, for, and among gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.

"The CSU Safe Space Program recognizes that while other minority students can easily identify role models and mentors, the invisibility of sexual orientation makes it very difficult for gay students to ascertain where they can safely turn for support and information," said Hoch "The Safe Space program provides these students with access to and recognition of individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities who are available to aid LGBT students in making connections with the resources available to them."

Hoch asked the assembled faculty and students to call on President Saunders to establish a Safe Space Program at FAU.

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