Last edited: December 05, 2004

USC Sexual Orientation Policy Draws Fire

Faculty senate plan to add it to school’s anti-discrimination rules riles some lawmakers

The State, December 7, 2001
Box 1333, Columbia, SC 29202
Fax: 803-771-8639

By Jeff Stensland, Staff Writer

USC’s faculty senate angered some lawmakers by recommending the university include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policy.

At the same time, some students and faculty were fuming Thursday over comments made by a member of the board of trustees.

The faculty senate voted 48-14 Wednesday to approve a proposal to add sexual orientation to a list of categories, including race, gender and religion, in its Equal Opportunity policy.

The recommendation does not address health benefits for same sex couples or extend affirmative action policies at the school.

After the vote, board of trustees member and former home builder Michael Mungo accused gays and lesbians of "trying to take over the world."

Kevin Lewis, a religious studies professor at USC, said Mungo’s comments are insulting.

"These comments sound like the ones white racists made about black people decades ago," he said. "Mr. Mungo has outlived his usefulness on the board."

Mungo, who has served on the board since 1969, will begin another four-year term in January, pending ratification by the General Assembly.

On Thursday, Mungo again showed disapproval with the faculty senate’s decision.

He said that gays and lesbians who push for nondiscrimination policy changes have a hidden agenda.

"None of them really feel okay, so they’re trying to get the rest of us to put a big stamp of approval on their back," he said.

Also Thursday, Sen. John Hawkins, R-Spartanburg, said he will introduce a bill that would prevent any state institution from singling out gays and lesbians for protection from discrimination.

"In my view, an administrator should be allowed to refuse to hire someone because of their sexual orientation," Hawkins said. "We should be able to exclude open homosexuals from teaching our kids."

Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, a GOP gubernatorial candidate, also sent a letter to the board of trustees urging them not to adopt the faculty senate’s recommendation.

Peeler said he’s concerned about the legality of such a policy. He referenced existing state laws that make sodomy and fornication illegal.

"As one dissenting professor said ... ‘we’re essentially legitimizing actions or activities that run against state law,’" Peeler said. USC President John Palms dismissed the same proposal in 1993, saying he had worried it could open the school to lawsuits since no state law singled out sexual orientation as a protected category.

Mungo also said the policy change would give gays and lesbians a reason to sue USC.

"The gays and lesbians harass you, try to intimidate you," he said. "That’s why we can’t do this, because they’ll sue you the first chance they get."

Faculty senate chairman Rob Wilcox said he’s worried the faculty senate’s proposal won’t be taken seriously.

"I would just ask that anyone who is asked to act on this resolution give it full consideration. I’m a bit concerned by the suggestion that the views of the faculty senate were irrelevant," Wilcox said.

Wilcox said other faculty members were upset after reading Mungo’s comments after Wednesday’s vote

Zach Scott, chairman of the student government’s policy change committee, called Mungo’s views "antiquated" and accused him of trying "to push a line between people."

Jeff Crews, president of USC’s Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Association said while he respects Mungo’s right to express his views, he "strenuously" disagrees with them.

Crews declined to comment on Hawkins’ proposed legislation.

Hawkins said he doesn’t know if his bill will pass, but said he would introduce it shortly after the Legislature meets in January.

"I suspect it’ll get strong support from certain parts of the state," Hawkins said.

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