SMU Senate votes in favor of LGBT seat after 10 years of defeat, awaits student majority

CORRECTION (March 26, 2014): We neglected to mention the contribution of Senate Parliamentarian Christopher Cornell. He was one of the authors of the final bill. We regret the error.

SPECTRUM members (from left to right) Harvey Luna, Kathrina Macalanda, Shelbi Smith and Colton Donica. (Courtesy of Shelbi Smith)
SPECTRUM members show support of the LGBT Senate seat (from left to right) Harvey Luna, Kathrina Macalanda, Shelbi Smith and Colton Donica. (Courtesy of Shelbi Smith)

SMU Student Senate voted in favor of adding a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) seat to the chamber Tuesday night, with only three dissenting votes of the 37 total voiced senators. Senate will send the referendum to the student body vote likely by next week. It will require a two-thirds majority.

“It’s a proud moment for the university in general, considering two years ago SMU was ranked in the top 12 of the most homophobic schools in America,” SPECTRUM Co-president Shelbi Smith said. “Last year was the first year in several decades that we dropped off the list, and now all of a sudden Student Senate passes this bill.”

A significant —and immediately celebrated — win for the LGBT community at SMU, the LGBT seat in the Senate has been on the table for 10 years. The bill passed with the required three-fourths majority for the first time in its history Tuesday night.

Co-authored by Student Body President Ramon Trespalacios, Student Body Vice President Jaywin Malhi and Student Senate Parliamentarian Christopher Cornell, the bill was initially introduced to the Senate last week. Members of SMU Spectrum have been working with Senate closely throughout the semester in preparation for Tuesday’s vote.

“My purpose and the Student Senate’s purpose as a whole is to serve the entire community,” Trespalacios said.

In representing all members of the community and breaking down barriers between different facets, the students involved hope to see improved tolerance and acceptance of LGBT identifiers.

“LGBT students are discriminated against,” Smith said. “Student Senate very much reflects campus culture overall and having an LGBT senator is a chance for us to start shifting that culture.”

While there is currently a Spectrum liaison to Student Senate, the hope is that a LGBT senator will allow the issues and concerns of all LGBT students to be addressed, whether they are organization members or not.

“I think the majority of LGBT students miss out when they don’t have an actual senator that represents them,” said Colton Donica, treasurer of SMU Spectrum. “[Having a senator] will give the LGBT community a voice in something that has been lacking.”

Malhi explained the LGBT seat was last closest to materializing in 2011, but “by a very, very slim margin in the roll call vote it did not pass.”

“It was just a few votes, but it resulted in a lot of emotions,” Malhi said.

Trespalacios himself voted against the LGBT seat in 2011, but he explained it was due to privacy issues that have now been resolved in conjunction with the University Registrar.

“[In 2011], I wanted to make sure [the Senate] would represent the community within the SMU community [as a whole], and there was no way to identify who those members were,” Trespalacios said.

According to Smith, Trespalacios and Malhi, the University Registrar will now have a question on Access where students can self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The question can be opted out of and is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, protecting confidentiality — and a student’s parents will have no way of knowing if or how their student answered the question.

“The school has a responsibility to keep that private,” Trespalacios said.

If the student body passes the referendum and the Administration agrees positively to the bill on all of its fronts, the LGBT Senator will be required to be an identified member of the LGBT community, which will be verified by that self-identification question on Access.

While apparent growth has been made in SMU’s tolerance over the past couple of years, the students agree that the work is not nearly done, but only beginning.

“I think the purpose of this bill is recognition that the bus does not stop there,” Malhi said in reference to SMU no longer touting the title of one of the most homophobic U.S. schools. “Just because we’re not one of the most anti-LGBT campuses does not mean we’ve made it and we don’t have an obligation to continue to be progressive.”

According to Harvey Luna, the Spectrum liaison to Senate, the prospect of the LGBT seat had a slower start after 2011, but picked back up speed last year and had its hopefully final push this semester.

“It’s something that is very timely,” Luna said. “We are expanding as a university.”

In reference to SMU’s growing student body and the new Residential Commons system, the possible LGBT senator seat would allow SMU to keep up with the most progressive universities in the nation. Issues of transgender housing, gender-neutral bathrooms, increased LGBT curriculum and more openly LGBT administrators, faculty and staff could be advocated for and produced as successful legislation.

“We need more,” Malhi said. “We need someone advocating for more classes on [LGBT issues]…and someone to consider the impact of rooming situations on the transgender community.”

The involved students called for vocal representation to provide the voice to the community when speaking with SMU Administration and decision makers on growing issues affecting LGBT current and prospective students. The seat would be an opportunity for the prevalent and significant issues facing SMU’s LGBT community — including hate crimes — to be heard.

“They thought that this seat would provide a window for the LGBT students to voice their concerns that they personally are facing, and that they then could express to the rest of the Senate,” said Kathrina Macalanda, who also worked with students to advocate for the bill.

According to Malhi, the referendum will likely be on the ballot for Senate elections beginning next Tuesday, barring any technical difficulties with a last-minute question being added. Malhi said that the referendum would go to vote immediately after that if there were any difficulties.

“SMU does a lot of things right and it’s progressive in a lot of ways…but I think it’s time that the student body follows suit,” Smith said. “We’re very hopeful that the student body will vote the same way their senators did.”

 

 

 

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