The Texas A&M University Student Senate passed a bill Wednesday night to inform the student body they are allowed to “opt-out” of funding university services, including the university’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, if they object for religious or moral reasons.
The bill passed after several hours of emotional testimonies and debate, including moments of heated argument. The crowd of students attending to debate was large enough that administrators set up an overflow viewing area.
The A&M Student Senate passed the bill, entitled “The Religious Funding Exemption Bill,” by a vote of 35-28. Less than a day before the vote, the bill had been called the “GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill.”
Senate member Chris Woolsey, a political science sophomore, sponsored the original bill. He said the bill, critiqued for targeting the queer community on campus, was intended to deal with issues of religious conscience and only seeks to publicize an appeals process already in place at A&M, which allows students to appeal their tuition bills for a number of reasons.
“We want to protect the religious conscience of students,” Woolsey said. “Students should know they have this right.”
Though the financial appeals process already exists, the bill would publicize the appeals option and include a link to the process with all tuition bills.
Cameron Pipes, an A&M mechanical engineering freshman, said he and many of his peers view the bill as being unsupportive of the queer community on campus.
“I disagree with the bill,” Pipes said. “Especially as Aggies — we say we all support each other, but this community doesn’t seem like it’s supporting specific groups of people as well as it should be right now.”
UT mechanical engineering freshman Gwen Whalen, who identifies as queer, said she rejects the justification behind the bill.
“I’m white, so I might not need a multicultural center, but I’m not going to ask why my money needs to go there,” Whalen said. “It’s a community issue.”
Music performance freshman Winn Ellinger, who also identifies as queer, said support for the Gender and Sexuality Center sends an important message.
“It makes it feel like it’s a student body issue, not just an individual issue,” Ellinger said.
A&M student body president John Claybrook, a finance senior, did not respond to requests for comment but told the Bryan-College Station newspaper, The Eagle, that he has not decided whether or not he will sign the bill. If signed, the legislation will be sent to the university’s president, chief financial officer, the A&M System’s chancellor and Board of Regents before it is approved.