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For Me, It’s Personal

Opinion | February 19, 2013

I’ve had several conversations over the past few months with friends who don’t believe the Committee on Student Life’s (CSL) recent decision exempting religious groups from Tufts non-discrimination policy is that horrible. For the most part, I understand their reasoning. After all, it’s an accepted fact that religions discriminate. All religions have done so and most, to some extent, continue to do so. Those of you who don’t think that the CSL’s decision to allow religious groups to discriminate is a big deal: I’m jealous. I’m jealous because for you, the issue isn’t personal. For me, it is.

Ultimately, I’ve seen this argument and this apathy before. They’re the reason why I cannot get married in 41 states. Why I can legally be discriminated against in 29 states. They’re the reason why I have to lie every time I try to save lives by donating blood. The reason I was called gay before I even knew what the word meant and why I was called a fag long after I did. They’re the reason why I hesitated every time my ex went to hold my hand in public. Why I am nervous walking around the city alone at night with the gay pride button fastened to my backpack. It’s the reason why every time I hear of another queer teen who has committed suicide because of bullying I hurt inside—because in another life, that could have been me.

Religions can discriminate. They have the right to. What they don’t have the right to do is receive institutional benefits, whether provided by the U.S. government or by Tufts University—those are privileges. And every time an institution grants these privileges to an organization that discriminates, that institution reinforces the argument that discrimination is okay. They reinforce the idea that certain people don’t deserve equal rights—basic human rights such as the right to marry, the right to fair employment, the right to live free of fear. Any religious (or non-religious) group can exist on campus without being recognized by the TCUJ. They can meet, host events, and discriminate all they want. However, groups that do discriminate do not deserve the benefits that University recognition grants them.

As a Jewish gay man, I have struggled with both my sexuality and my religion. However, Tufts embraced both my identities, not as separate conflicting identities but as identities that complement each other. I’ve always felt that Tufts celebrated my identity. Or at least I felt that way until last December, when the CSL decided that religious groups could discriminate against LGBTQ students in leadership positions. Because that’s supported by their “religious doctrine.”

In their op-ed, the chairs of the CSL stated that they “view safeguarding a welcoming environment on campus to be our primary mission.” If that is their mission, the CSL has dramatically failed. Discrimination is not welcoming. I question whether I, as a prospective student struggling with his sexuality and his religion, would have chosen Tufts if at the time, Tufts had just decided that religious groups were allowed to discriminate in their leadership.

President Monaco described this decision as keeping with “Tufts’ commitment to a diverse and welcoming campus community and to a vibrant spiritual life on campus.” Exclusion does not breed diversity. Barring others from leadership positions in student recognized religious groups does not create a welcoming atmosphere. Using religion as a means of justifying discrimination does not create a vibrant spiritual life on campus. As someone who has played a role in the religious life on campus, I can tell you that many of us who are active in religious groups are trying to make our respective organizations more inclusive, not less. This policy is antithetical to my religious values and the values that I—apparently falsely—thought the University held.

Recently, I was speaking to a gay Jewish high school senior and was attempting to convince him to attend Tufts. I told him about the large LGBTQ presence and how accepting the community is here at Tufts. As I told him these things, all I could think was, ‘Am I lying? Can I really claim that Tufts is accepting of all identities with this policy in place?’ I never felt unaccepted at Tufts before this policy was created. But now it is clear that the University does not fully value my identity. It doesn’t believe that I’m worthy of being protected by non-discrimination policies. And that I should not be welcome in TCU recognized religious spaces on this campus.

So to those of you who don’t understand why I’ve posted so many statuses on this issue, why I’m involved with the Coalition Against Religious Exclusion (CARE), why this is such a big deal—I’m jealous. I’m jealous because for you, this may not be a personal issue. Unfortunately, for me it is.