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Opinion: University of Nebraska gives Ron Brown license to attack LGBT athletes

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Two weeks after calling for the firing of anti-gay Nebraska assistant football coach Ron Brown, many voices have joined the chorus. Athlete Ally’s change.org petition has received over 1,000 signatures from people concerned with the intolerant direction Brown is leading the Cornhuskers; An openly gay member of the Lincoln Board of Education has called for his firing; And the local media in Nebraska has brought the issue of Brown’s anti-gay discrimination to light.

Despite all of that, the University of Nebraska has given Ron Brown license to continue building a hostile environment for LGBT athletes on the school’s football team. University Chancellor Harvey Perlman refuses to take any action other than wagging his finger at Brown, simply saying:

I am personally offended by the comments of Coach Brown with regard to gays and lesbians. Whether intended to do so or not, they reflect poorly on the university, on our athletic programs, and I am certain they cause pain and discomfort among a valued and productive segment of our community.

Think about that. The Chancellor of the school admits that this state employee causes pain to gay students and athletes, yet won’t act. Maybe Perlman needs a refresher of his school’s own non-discrimination policy:

One aspect of this commitment is to foster a climate of inclusion and mutual support that will enhance our ability to achieve our overall goals….

How can the chancellor of the school possibly claim to administer the university’s non-discrimination policy while at the same time doing nothing to curtail a high-profile coach of the school’s highest-profile program causing “pain and discomfort” for gay students? How on earth does causing pain “foster a climate of inclusion and mutual support”?

It doesn’t.

Unfortunately, the University doesn’t care.

Barbara Baier, an openly gay member of the Lincoln Board of Education, tried to open eyes to the power of the university’s inaction in a well-articulated letter to the university:

I am not one for strong words, but in the case of the University of Nebraska, hypocrisy is an institutionalized value as regards LGBT students and their fair and legal right to access a tax subsidized postsecondary education. This hypocrisy is exemplified by the longstanding and persistent anti-LGBT behavior and bullying tactics of Coach Ron Brown.

I hope that you seriously consider your responsibility in allowing and, by your inaction, endorsement of his behavior toward LGBT students and the entire LGBT community. If I felt threatened by Coach Brown by simply attending a function at UNL’s Champion’s Club, then what do LGBT student athletes feel in your athletics program? How do they feel attending your many campuses and classrooms? How do LGBT faculty and staff feel? Does maintaining a climate of hate further your academic mission or diminish it?

The message from the University of Nebraska is clear: The inclusion of sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy is a sham, carries no weight, and is simply there on paper to appease a powerless minority at the school.

One aspect of Brown’s particular brand of anti-gay discrimination pulls the wool over people's eyes. It's the smile he offers while advocating for discrimination against gay people. Baier called it out brilliantly in her letter:

When some people seek to camouflage their hatred under the cloak of their faith, their professed religious beliefs should not shield them from the consequences of their actions.

Brown’s response to Baier last week was a glaring example of his hatred cloaked under the love of faith:

I'm not meaning to harm anybody. I'm quoting the scriptures. I'll be praying for her, for her to see the reality of what the Lord is saying in the Bible.

He doesn’t want to harm her, he just wants to convert her away from who she is at her core. That ought to help build the university’s “climate of inclusion and mutual support,” right?

This double-speak is what makes Brown so dangerous for LGBT athletes. In an interview with Lincoln-based radio station KILN (hat tip to Aksarbent), Brown responded to my previous column. He painted himself as someone who opposes what he called “evil” discrimination against gay people:

Discrimination against them in the evil sense? Should they be harassed? Should they be fired on the spot if they’re doing good work because they’re gay? Absolutely not. I don’t believe in that at all. Should they be beat up? Should they be talked about? Should they be teased and ridiculed? Absolutely not.

Sounds inclusive, right? Not so fast. While opposing “evil” discrimination, he endorsed discrimination in general, as though some discrimination is good and some is bad:

Now, in terms of the use of the word discrimination in the sense of being able to have discretion and wisdom, acknowledging a belief system that one holds to, particularly due to my relationship with Jesus Christ, absolutely. There’s no question. … So in Omaha, for example, when I spoke at the ordinance, in opposing the ordinance to have homosexuals as a protected class, I absolutely stand by that. … As a protected class, in terms of receiving certain rights and benefits as African Americans were and other groups, women for example, who were clearly oppressed throughout history? No, not at all. And I stand on that.

I take Brown at his word: He would never condone assaulting or killing someone because they are gay. He also says he doesn’t think someone should be fired because they are gay…even though he fought against an ordinance that said exactly that. Still, I’ll take him at his word.

But there are lots of things you can do to someone short of beating them or firing them. He could give them less playing time. He could undermine their chances on the team. He could harm their mental well-being by continually telling them they are wrong, sinful and an abomination.

And there is no reason to believe Brown does not do these things. In fact, Brown says he approves of lesser kinds of discrimination against gay people that is driven by “discretion and wisdom, acknowledging a belief system” like his that equates gay people to thieves and drug-abusers. He has also made it clear is he in football at Nebraska to "bring honor and glory to god."

The University of Nebraska’s non-discrimination policy does not differentiate between various forms of discrimination. It focuses on fostering “a climate of inclusion and mutual support.” None of Brown’s support for discrimination accomplishes that.

In his KLIN interview, Brown concluded with this little gem:

If you don’t believe in the bible, if you don’t believe what the scriptures say that it is truly accurately the word of god, then of course you may not buy into that. But if you do, Like I and many others who follow Jesus Christ, you would have to stand on the word of God.

You would have to ignore pesky non-discrimination policies. You would have to put your own personal belief in the word of God above all else. You would have to limit the power of the “homosexual agenda.” You don’t have an option here. It’s not as though you can weigh the consequences and then decide. In Brown’s words, “You would have to stand on the word of God.”

The university continues to turn a blind eye.

Brown has said he will not stop. He will not change course. He will continue to advocate for anti-gay discrimination and preach his bigotry-based brand of Christianity. He motivates his followers with the calls for him to stop advocating for discrimination. He has given the proverbial middle finger to the school and to the gay community, and he will not stop because his actions are ordained by God.

So far, the University of Nebraska has said they will do nothing to stop or curtail him. For the sake of the under-served LGBT students and athletes at the University of Nebraska, that must change.

Nebraska athletic department spokesperson Keith Mann offered no further comment for this story.

You can sign Athlete Ally's change.org petition to fire coach Ron Brown. Also, visit Aksarbent for more on Ron Brown.