Valentine’s march for equality

February 16, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas--Two hundred students, faculty and staff, dressed in red T-shirts reading "This Valentine's Day, Fall in Love with Equality," rallied and marched February 14 for domestic-partner benefits on the University of Texas (UT) campus.

The event was organized by the Pride and Equity Faculty-Staff Organization (PEFSA), a group created in 2007 in order to win equal insurance benefits for same-sex couples.

Lindsey Schell, chairperson of PEFSA's domestic-partner benefits committee, said that while the university stalls and stonewalls on this question, faculty, staff and students are harmed. She told a story about a staff member whose partner died of cancer, but had to work a job as she declined just so she could have health insurance.

When she died, the university did not offer the staff member leave for her partner's funeral, because the deceased was not recognized as her spouse. UT still does not offer bereavement leave to LGBTQ employees whose partners die.

UT also stands alone among its peers in failing to recognize the full equality of its LGBTQ faculty and staff. In 2009, PEFSA published a report detailing the major harms-- failed hires, lost faculty and staff and employee hardship--of this inequity.

The report also noted that providing such benefits would cost the University only 0.0058 percent of its annual human resources budget. The administration is hiding behind the Defense of Marriage Act and a homophobic insurance law that denies same-sex unions the status of marriage.

"UT could offer these benefits," said English Professor Lisa Moore. "Michigan is a state that has its own DOMA law, and they found a way to honor all of their employees' families. There are so many barriers to getting health care in this country. Homophobia shouldn't be one of them."

The five-block march from the rally space to the Human Resources office was spirited. Marchers chanted, "What do we want? Equality!" along the entire route and up the stairs to the second-floor office. LGBT faculty and staff turned in paperwork requesting benefits for their partners.

There were dozens of students in attendance. They chanted, "Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia's got to go!" as they climbed the stairs and crowded into the office. The HR staff were kind but silent, until Associate Vice President for Human Resources Julien Carter gave a noncommittal speech, wishing the ralliers well. "Let's ask him to actually do something," commented one protester.

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