A private Christian University in Tennessee has proposed restricting how students express their sexuality and gender on campus.
Under the proposed policy at Lee University, students are not allowed to identify or dress as a gender that differs from their “biological sex,” or sex assigned at birth, which includes requesting new pronouns. Students are also banned from speaking out against the restrictions, according to a leaked draft obtained by WTVC-TV in Tennessee.
The policies, which are scheduled to go into effect during the fall semester, also prohibit heterosexual sex outside of marriage and displays of affection in same-sex relationships.
The university is now facing criticism from the LGBTQ community and allies, who decried the policies as discriminatory.
Joie St. Hubert, a nonbinary transgender man and former student at Lee, said he fears the new policies will have devastating effects on LGBTQ students.
“I’m really scared for my peers, my queer friends that are still over there,” St. Hubert, 22, told NBC News. “If I were still on campus today, I would have to go by my dead name. I would have to use she/her pronouns and I would have to present as a woman, which I am not.”
St. Hubert said he was suspended from the school last year after he made TikTok videos speaking out against what he said was pervasive anti-LGBTQ sentiment on campus.
“Almost every day walking to and from class, someone would say something about my appearance, about my gender, about my sexuality,” he said. “It was scary. I really felt like I was walking on eggshells. … The fact that I didn’t feel safe at my own school was terrifying, absolutely terrifying for me.”
The Affirming Alum Collective, an alumni group for LGBTQ community and allies, condemned the proposal as the school’s latest effort to limit the rights of LGBTQ students.
“The Affirming Alum Collective stands ready to support students on Lee University’s campus who find themselves at odds with these policies and advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ students in the campus community,” the group said in a statement. “We take this stand because, while our alma mater currently insists on policies which have a demonstrably negative impact on students, we believe in Lee’s inclusive culture of faith, hope, and love, and we trust that it will prevail.”
Katherine Gilliard, a member of the organization, told NBC News that the group has been trying to meet with Lee about the proposed policies, but those requests have gone unanswered by administrators.
“These policies have caused, and will continue to cause, a mental health crisis on campus,” Gilliard wrote in an email. “We are deeply concerned for the health and wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ students.”
A university spokesperson did not respond to NBC News’ requests for comment. In a statement to WTVC-TV and The Chattanooga Times Free Press, university spokesperson Kendra Mann said the proposal underscores the university’s religious beliefs.
“The statement in question does not represent sweeping changes in policy at Lee; it is an explanation of the beliefs underpinning a group of policies that have been in place for quite some time,” the statement said. “Members of the Lee community have worked on this statement for the past few years. We met May 9 with faculty and staff to look at the statement and discuss it.”
Before the draft was leaked, the university planned to receive feedback from other stakeholders. The university receives funding from The Church of God, a religious organization in the state.
Title IX, a federal civil rights law, prevents schools from discriminating on the basis of sex and gender. The Affirming Alum Collective points out that if the university receives federal funds, it would be in violation of Title IX.
St. Hubert said that he has attended religious schools since he was a child, and that it’s in part because of his experiences at Lee University that he is no longer religious. Still, St. Hubert hopes queer students can find an environment that affirms and sees them for who they are.
“Why is there so much time and energy spent discriminating against excluding members of a certain community?” he said. “It breaks my heart that Lee is such an unsafe place.”