Updated: March 6, 2015 at 9:01 p.m.
The leader of GW’s Young America’s Foundation said the organization should not be required to participate in LGBT sensitivity trainings that were debated at an SA Senate meeting late last month.
Emily Jashinsky, the group’s president, said she hopes to get a “religious exemption” if the trainings are approved. The Student Association voted in favor of a package of bills at the end of February to add mandatory training sessions about LGBT issues for student leaders and faculty, publish a list of gender-neutral bathrooms and add a gender-neutral option to all office forms.
“Mandated training is not really being very tolerant of all religious beliefs,” Jashinsky said. “The way that people who are deeply Christian behave is for a reason, and if you’re training them to change that behavior, there’s obviously a problem with that.”
The “safe zone” training sessions would teach group presidents and treasurers about gender identities and sexualities. Officials in the Multicultural Student Services Center would lead the trainings, which would also be extended to faculty.
In the SA meeting a little more than a week ago, several senators said required trainings could conflict with the religious beliefs of student group leaders, especially those who run religiously affiliated organizations. Sen. Chris Stillwell, ESIA-U, one of the senators who supports religious exemptions, said at the meeting that the SA must “respect people’s own personal preferences.”
Sen. Brady Forrest, CCAS-G, and Sen. Victoria Goncalves, CCAS-U, who cosponsored the bills, said at the meeting that training sessions would be used to give information, not to influence students’ opinions.
Forrest said in an email that he and “many other senators who voted for this [training]” would not support letting students opt out of the training.
“We plan on meeting with cultural and religious organizations to make sure we are doing the trainings in the most effective way possible and meeting people and organizations where they are at,” Forrest said.
Leaders from J Street, GW’s chapter of the national pro-Israel group that is predominantly Jewish, said they would participate in mandated trainings. Seven other religiously affiliated student groups on campus did not return requests for comment.
YAF is made up of students who are predominantly Christian and conservative. The group often hosts conservative speakers, attends pro-life rallies and protests same-sex marriage. Last spring, the group urged GW officials to “condemn” an “atmosphere of intolerance” after a pro-life display in Kogan Plaza was vandalized. The group will host former Republican senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum on campus next month.
Jashinsky said certain aspects of the trainings, like learning how to use transgender students’ preferred pronouns, would be ideas that members of the group “don’t believe in.” She also questioned the need for more diversity and LGBT training programs on campus because “everything is pretty harmonious.” She said YAF has always been open to the LGBT community and LGBT individuals have joined the group in the past.
While the trainings are intended to make LGBT students feel more comfortable in their student groups, Jashinsky said all students should know about YAF’s religious beliefs before they decide to join.
She said she considers the group to be “a safe space.”
“As long as they understand that we have religious values, it’s totally fine with us and it’s totally fine with them,” she said. “Disagreements don’t prevent us from making friendships with our LGBT peers.”
But Alex Pollock, the president of College Republicans, said he would support mandatory trainings that would teach student group leaders how to be respectful.
“Regardless of your views on LGBT people, LGBT people exist,” he said. “It should be mandatory from a sensitivity perspective.”
Pollock said he didn’t think a required training session would offend students, even though not all organization leaders share the same beliefs.
“The intent is not to belittle political or religious organizations,” Pollock said. “The purpose of this bill is to make student organization leaders aware that we have a diverse student body and make people feel included.”
This post was updated to reflect the following corrections:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported YAF’s name as the Young Americans Foundation and the Young America Foundation. It is the Young America’s Foundation. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that if student leaders were to complete sensitivity training, their organizations would be labeled “safe zones” for LGBT students. The sessions would just be called “safe zone” trainings. In a photo caption, The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the sensitivity trainings would include information about sexual assault. The focus of the trainings would be LGBT issues. We regret these errors.