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Dozens rally for student expelled for being gay

The boyfriend of a Kentucky college student expelled for declaring his homosexuality on the Internet called Wednesday for a halt to $10 million in state funding for the private Baptist school.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The boyfriend of a Kentucky college student expelled for declaring his homosexuality on the Internet called Wednesday for a halt to $10 million in state funding for the private Baptist school.

Zac Dreyer — who met the student, Jason Johnson, on about two months ago — said Johnson is doing well but is a bit surprised by the publicity his case has generated. Johnson was expelled from the University of the Cumberlands earlier this month after posting details of his dating life on the Web site.

"Originally I was just appalled by the whole thing that happened," Dreyer said. "Right now I'm just happy to see all the support Jason is getting."

Johnson is hoping to transfer to Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, where Dreyer also attends, Dreyer said.

Dreyer was among some 50 protesters who rallied Wednesday morning at a park in Williamsburg over Johnson's expulsion. Johnson didn't attend the rally, which featured rainbow-colored gay pride flags and numerous signs, including one that read, "If God didn't create homosexuals, why do they exist?"

The main speaker was state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, the only openly gay legislator in the state.

Scorsone mocked a presentation by state Senate President David Williams a day earlier, in which Williams presented an oversized check from the state to the university for its planned $10 million pharmacy school. Williams has defended the school's decision to expel Johnson.

"I wouldn't cash that check," Scorsone said Wednesday.

Johnson and others argue that a private school that bans openly gay students should not receive funding from the state.

Governor’s line-item veto possible
Brett Hall, a spokesman for Gov. Ernie Fletcher, said Wednesday the governor hasn't yet decided whether to use his line-item veto power to remove the funding for the pharmacy school from the state budget.

Hall said Fletcher is concerned that the proposed pharmacy school might not be able to win accreditation because of its policy against accepting gay and lesbian students. Hall said the governor also has sought a legal opinion from his general counsel about whether the state can give money for a building project to a religious institution.

University of the Cumberlands President James Taylor, who had been mum on the subject citing legal issues, said the state provides funds to hundreds of nonprofit charities and the Johnson decision shouldn't jeopardize the pharmacy school funding.

"Our policy with respect to sex outside of marriage is entirely lawful," Taylor said in a statement Wednesday. "No federal, state or local law has been violated. Not everyone likes the university's policy. But the university does not establish policy on the basis of popularity or political correctness; our policies are rooted in the values of the institution."

Although most of the participants in the protest were college students from across Kentucky, few showed up from the nearby University of the Cumberlands. Jennifer Fore, one of the organizers who attends the school, said she thinks students fear they will be disciplined if they speak out.

Fore, who is heterosexual, said she personally knows of at least 40 gay students who attend the school but have simply kept their sexual orientation private from administrators. She said she supposes a higher percentage of gay students attend small private colleges than large public ones.

"It is the Bible belt," he said. "I think more gay students come to the smaller colleges. They grew up with the religion, and they think they can change, or sometimes they think they can go under the radar."

‘It's prejudice and it's wrong’
Amy Widmer, a close friend of Johnson's who attended the college, says he told her he was gay during a party. She gave him a hug, she said, and in recent weeks they have shared stories with each other about their respective boyfriends.

"This is just not fair," Widmer said. "It's prejudice and it's wrong."

Johnson's lawyer, Don Waggener, reached an agreement with the university on Tuesday that would allow him to complete the semester by submitting his coursework. Initially, the school planned to give Johnson failing grades for the semester.

Johnson would give up his right to sue, Waggener said, but retain his right to file an appeal with the Department of Education and an organization that accredits schools.

"They will not report to any other institutions that he was suspended and flunked all his courses," Waggener said. "He was very pleased with the agreement, and he's ready to get on with his life."