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Effects of Texas House legislation unclear for GLBT programs at A&M, A&M-Commerce

Robin Reid, a language and literature professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce, is working to set up a “safe space” for the gay, lesbian and transgender community at this small East Texas campus. But there may be a hitch. State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, earlier this month added a provision to the House version of the state budget that would require Texas colleges and universities that use state funds for “gender and sexuality” centers to give equal financial support for “family and traditional values” centers.

Reid was unaware of the legislation. “If we set up a women’s center, would we have to set up a men’s center, too?” she said.

The program she plans at A&M-Commerce would not be an actual GLBT “center.”

“It would be a program to train people not to be homophobic bigots,” she said. “I think the training is really important on this campus. Those who go through the training would place stickers on their doors showing their departments or offices to be safe zones.”

A call to Christian’s office Tuesday afternoon was not immediately returned.

Reid hopes that eventually, the entire campus would be a safe zone. The plan also includes setting up support and discussion groups for students. She said she hopes to get help from existing GLBT programs at Texas A&M-College Station in setting up the program. Reid said she is not yet sure how the program will be funded, or if using staff and faculty time and university facilities for the program would be seen as problematical. Christian’s amendment, passed on the House floor, states that colleges and universities must use the same amount of appropriated funds on “family and traditional values” centers as they do on “gender and sexuality” centers focused on “gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or other gender identity issues.”

Lowell Kane, program director for the GLBT Resource Center at Texas A&M, said he does not know if the legislation will threaten the center’s programs.

“We are in line with the university’s stated goals of education and outreach,” he said, “To my knowledge, there haven’t been any responses to this legislation.”

“The university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas,” added Kane, who said the center works to educate both the gay and straight communities about GLBT issues. In addition to the center, the university also sponsors the Aggie Allies, a group with 900 members who go through training, then pledge to offer support to the GLBT community, and a student group, GLBT Aggies.

Jesus Reyes, 22, who graduated from Texas A&M in 2010, said that legislators are simply trying to prevent campuses from building GLBT centers, which he says are very important at places like A&M and A&M-Commerce.

“There is, I wouldn’t necessarily say homophobia, but a certain apprehension about gays at A&M,” Reyes said. “Honestly, I think there are many students there who have never met a gay person. They snicker at you if you walk into GLBT Resource meetings. Even in sociology class, they make bigoted, ignorant comments.”

He said GLBT centers are important for students who are at the age where they are just beginning to come to grips with their sexuality.

“If you are gay at a campus like College Station or Commerce, you fear that you might be ostracized, criticized. You can feel like an outcast. A center allows you to meet other people and learn about their experiences,” he said.

Reyes said there is no need to have a ‘family values’ center at places as conservative as A&M campuses.

“What are they going to do at a hetero center?” Reyes said. “Teach people about hetero sex? Hand out condoms from a candy jar?”

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