Letter to the Editor: A place to be your full, authentic self, no matter what 

Eric-John Szczepaniak, Kelly Dowker, and Alex Murarescu

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Twenty-one years ago this month, Matthew Shepard, an openly gay first-year student at the University of Wyoming, was tortured, tied to a prairie fence, and left to die. The attackers had pretended to be gay to gain Matthew’s trust. He died of his injuries six days later. 

For the past five years, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ Americans have been on the rise. States can be slow to craft legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals and this has allowed for continued discrimination in housing, the provision of medical services, employment, etc. Discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ+ status is not only incendiary to the values of inclusion and equity that GVSU purports, but also puts all people at risk. 

All people should be concerned about continued LGBTQ+ discrimination. Any person, regardless of whether you identify as LGBTQ+, can be fired, denied healthcare, and denied housing if there is even the slightest perception that you are gay. If you are perceived to be LGBTQ+ and do not fit into the model of what a man or woman should look, act, and sound like, you can be discriminated against. Protecting LGBTQ+ Americans is the only way to prevent this. 

According to a story by NBC News , “Across the nation, 22 states have their own laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Seven more provide that protection only to public employees.” LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination in this state and across the globe. Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases that will determine if Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on sex also covers LGBTQ+ individuals. These decisions will have ramifications for all Americans. 

If the justices find that Title VII does not protect LGBTQ+ Americans, they will be rolling back decades of progress. Title VII prohibits sex discrimination. It is sex discrimination when a man who is dating a man can be fired for that reason but a woman dating a man is not fired. The gay man in this scenario did not meet the fabricated standards of what a man should and should not do, and he was fired because he did not meet gender norms, sex norms that his employer had determined. 

Friday, October 11th was National Coming Out Day. We want to take this time to state, unequivocally, that GVSU supports all students. Student Senate worked with Inclusion & Equity back in the spring to ensure that public dollars awarded by the University to contractors do not go to those that would still discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. This resolution, W-19-01 , passed unanimously in Student Senate in March and was finalized by Inclusion & Equity in April . Our peers recognize that if one person can be discriminated against, we all can. 

No matter what the Supreme Court decides in the coming months, GVSU stands resolute in its commitment to providing a learning environment where all students can be their full authentic selves. All students should feel welcome at GVSU and all students should know that this is their home. 

Eric-John Szczepaniak, President, GVSU Student Senate

Kelly Dowker, Executive Vice President

Alex Murarescu, Vice President for Diversity Affairs