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This gay former college athlete is helping push a state bill to limit power of Christian colleges

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Anthony Villarreal says he was kicked out of William Jessup Univ., which has an anti-gay policy, three years ago. Now he's teamed up with California State Senator Ricardo Lara to pass SB 1146 to protect LGBT students from the Bible.

California Senator Ricardo Lara and Anthony Villarreal.
California Senator Ricardo Lara and Anthony Villarreal.

Last June I received a phone call from the office of California Senator Ricardo Lara. They informed me that they had read my 2014 story on Outsports and were interested in having me testify at the State Capitol.

Three years ago I was found "out" at my Christian University. After William Jessup University discovered I'm gay, I was kicked out of the school. I felt betrayed, I had confusion in my brain and my heart. I suddenly could not be gay, love freely, learn about God, and have a discriminatory free education in journalism, or compete in the sports I loved -- cross-country and track. I felt judged, I felt lost, I felt questioned, I felt discriminated against. While my high school classmates have graduated with bachelor degrees, I'm still searching for mine.

The Senator asked for permission to use my story in an article and testify in support of a bill that today is now receiving national attention and making history. After pensive thought and a long conversation with my partner, Colby, I agreed and began contributing to something so big. My life was about to change, and I didn't even know it.

California Senate Bill 1146 (SB 1146) in its early written form would have ended discrimination toward LGBTQ students almost in its entirety, especially those attending private religious institutions, like I was at the time I was dismissed from William Jessup University in 2013.

It would have ended this discrimination by requiring two things. First it would have forced religious schools such as WJU to publicly post their exemption from Title IX laws and to disclose it to all current and prospective students, as well as employees. Title IX states any school receiving federal monies should not discriminate against any classes of people.

Second the bill would have also allowed students who were expelled on the basis of sexual orientation or identity to sue for damages.

This being said, had this bill been passed prior to me being expelled from WJU in 2013, I would have not only been made aware of such an exemption, but also I would have known I had legal recourse for damages. However, because of the school's Title IX exemption, I have since had to live with their legal right to discriminate against me, and I was not allowed to finish my education there or sue the school for damages. You can see a list of Title IX exemption requests here.

A question I have often received after going public about my experience at WJU is, "If you are gay, why would you choose to attend a religious institution, knowing their beliefs?" This was even the question of a Republican senator in the California Assembly during the hearing, where he also called me stupid for attending such a university as a gay man.

Anyone who is a student, LGBTQ, and a Christian (like myself) is probably still trying to figure themselves out and come to terms with who they are (like I was at the time). It's not an easy process to accept your Christian faith and your attraction for the same sex. Also, a lot of influence for any students educational future comes from their parents (like mine did at the time). Why should I, or students like myself be punished for that?

As I met with the author of SB 1146, Senator Ricardo Lara of the 33rd district from Long Beach, who is also openly gay, we spoke in front of the Assembly of Higher Education. I can recall him saying, "Universities are supposed to be a place where students feel safe and can learn without fear of discrimination or harassment."

This is when it sank in. I was given the opportunity to make a difference for LGBT rights.

As I testified, I can recall being extremely nervous yet passionate. This was my chance to make sure that my story was not in vain. No one should ever have to go through what I have been through. For this reason I, along with many other LGBTQ students, are in support of SB 1146.

SB 1146 has since passed the Assembly and is on it way through appropriations to be voted on August 18, before it reaches the governors desk. Many Christian Universities since the beginning have been in opposition of this bill, for obvious reasons. The bill's intention in its original form was not to alter any religious beliefs or teachings.

Because these religious universities receive federal funds, this bill only asks that these schools stop discriminating against LGBTQ students, follow federal laws, and allow ALL students to participate in such educations, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Unfortunately, SB 1146 was amended. This was in response to the major opposition being flooded into the legislature by many bigoted Christians who only read the rumored headlines of what the major Christian institutions and universities were telling them, such as "California Bill Would Ultimately Erase Religious Schools."

This amendment ultimately removed the section where a student could sue if they were expelled for their sexuality and added a section that states every religious institution is required to report any and all expulsions to the Student Aid Commission. Prior to that amendment, every religious university was against the bill including WJU, stating "we strongly oppose this bill unless amended." Since the amendment, WJU and many universities are no longer in opposition of SB 1146, but rather in favor of it, now that they can no longer be sued for discriminating. Yet they all claim that they don't discriminate.

Since speaking in the State Capitol, I have been flooded with media outlets asking for interviews. It is because of the support of my amazing partner Colby, my parents, my family, his family, and some amazing friends, that I have been encouraged to keep on fighting for the right thing. I have been given the opportunity to speak on behalf of all LGBTQ students who are both religious and non-religious and fight for what is right in today's society. Working alongside a California State Senator, his team, and Equality California to promote a new law, in favor of something, which once had a major personal effect on my life, has given me hope once again. I have found support in my state, and its law makers who fight hard for and with me, to make sure no student has to go through what I already have.

Though this bill now includes a major amendment, it is still a small stepping stone in making history for the civil rights movement, especially for the LGBTQ community and a gateway to the future of LGBTQ rights.

SB 1146 even as amended has done itself justice, in the fact that it has put such religious institutions in the spotlight, using stories like mine, to show that they do in fact discriminate. Unfortunately as the law has it right now, they legally can, and legally will continue to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

I am proud of what Senator Lara and his team have accomplished with SB 1146. I will always know that because I was courageous enough to come forward with my story, I along with some amazing California lawmakers will be making history.

I, and my writings stand firm in the belief that we are all created equal, and should be treated that way. I have not given up in my fight and will continue to speak out for LGBTQ equal rights, as a human, a Christian, a member of the LGBTQ community, and hopefully one day as an openly gay politician just like Senator Lara.

You can find Anthony Villarreal on Facebook. He is also on Instagram and Twitter. He is also on email at anthonyvsngr@gmail.com.