JMU Faculty Senate Passes Same-sex Partner Benefits Despite “Hostile Work Environment”
James Madison University passed a resolution supporting same-sex partner benefits at their Dec 5 meeting, even as an unnamed faculty member called the prestigious VA state school a “hostile work environment.”
The resolution is more of a request for services and has little impact on the actual benefits provided to school employees. Virginia’s Dillon rule, which says no state organization can make a law not conferred by the General Assembly, denies colleges from giving benefits to same-sex partners, or protecting LGBTQ employees. This was reinforced in March of 2010 when Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli asked VA colleges to remove sexual identity and gender expression from their list of non-discriminated classes.
But the fight for recognizing LGBTQ people in the state workforce has not stopped, as shown by these resolutions, and the lack of protections does impact at least one state employee according to a recent article from JMU’s student paper, The Breeze:
A JMU professor, who wished to remain anonymous, said that JMU’s lack of recognition for same-sex partnerships and marriages creates a hostile work environment for faculty, staff and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, allied, asexual or pansexual.
“I could be fired for being gay — it’s a hostile work environment,” she said. “It forces people to stay in the closet and deny who they are and to lie to people in the community.”
The professor, who identifies as queer, said she and all other employees at JMU deserve the same benefits and job security regardless of their sexual orientation.
“As a queer person, you come out every day,” she said. “You don’t just come out when you’re however old and come out to your parents; every day, you’re having to deal with your sexual identity because of homophobia and heterosexism.”
In the past, the professor said she had a partner, but their relationship ended partly because she chose her job at JMU over her partner. However, even if she had stayed with her partner, the professor said JMU wouldn’t have paid for both of them to move to the area, like they would have if she was involved in a heterosexual relationship.
“At the end of the day I needed a full-time job; I needed health care,” she said. “I had to put aside my morals and ethics to take of myself, and that’s wrong. I should not have had to do that.”
JMU’s Senior Director of Communications, Don K. Egle, replied to questions about the policy via email saying the college was aware of the move by the Faculty Senate, but there was little the school could do because of state law.
“The resolution urges state institutions to extend employment to same-sex domestic partners on the same basis as married individuals. Legal statutes in the Commonwealth of Virginia dictate the university’s response to such a resolution.”
As for the comments made by the anonymous source in The Breeze, Egle said they were “very unfortunate and do not accurately reflect JMU’s mission, values and campus community.”
“JMU remains committed to our campus values that include integrity, mutual respect, diversity and inclusion,” said Egle. “The law on these issues is in a state of flux nationally and we will continue to monitor future developments. The university is following this topic closely and will continue to encourage productive dialog on campus.”
JMU’s faculty resolution is similar to a resolution passed at another state school, William & Mary, where a Faculty Assembly voted to support same-sex partner benefits in late September.
“Continuing to reject such a mainstream change to non-discrimination policies is harmful to Virginia’s reputation as a great place to live, work and do business.”April 30, 2015
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