Stonewalled

FIU's first gay-rights group finds disciples of Anita Bryant alive and well on campus

"A preposterous position," scoffs Greg Baldwin, a lawyer who earlier this year penned a five-page legal opinion asserting FIU's right to set its own discrimination policy. "What could be favoritism about insuring a group equal rights?" Baldwin, chair of the gay-rights Dade Action PAC, says he is disappointed that FIU officials passed the buck to Tallahassee and especially galled at the administrative silence that has accompanied the fresh rash of hatemongering. "If this were a black student group or a Jewish student group being harassed, the president of the university would be screaming holy bloody hell over this. When people are afraid to take a stand, that's when the bigots move in."

Though Jaile says he made a formal complaint to FIU's office of Equal Opportunity Programs two weeks ago, Maidique counters that he was unaware of Stonewall's most recent grievances. He insists he has taken a leading role in advocating gay rights. "I was the first president to bring the issue up at the state level," Maidique stresses. "I could have just ignored it, but I didn't. I wrote to them and they said it was a systemwide issue. End of case."

Not so, says Jaile, who cites more than 300 colleges throughout the nation, many of them state-funded, that already have adopted nondiscrimination policies based on sexual orientation. "Our so-called enlightened universities should be setting the example on civil rights issues, not waiting for permission," asserts Jaile, whose latest lobbying efforts included a short audience with Sen. Bob Graham during his September visit to FIU.

Attorney Baldwin argues that Florida's new Hate Crimes Act should provide the groundwork for the state system to broaden its policy. The law, passed in March, was recently amended to include homosexuals as one of the minority groups targeted by perpetrators of "hate crimes." Labor Director Parry says the Board of Regents, the system's official governing body, may well review the legislation to determine if it constitutes a precedent - next year. "We recognize that this issue has momentum on a statewide basis, but given the state's financial crisis, our top priority for this year is figuring out how to avoid laying people off," he says.

Maidique sees no cause for panic. "Whatever the words say, my interpretation is that sexual orientation is included in our policy," the president concludes. "Even if it's not explicitly stated." His counterpart at Tampa's South Florida University, Frank Borkowski, took a less soothing stand on the issue last month, when he released a memorandum formally including sexual orientation in the school's equal-opportunity policy. If Maidique wants to advance his concern for FIU's gays beyond lip service, Peter Jaile says, he should listen to his conscience, not Tallahassee's orders, and follow suit.

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