Equality Florida Joins Call for FAMU Board to Add LGBT Protections; Rally to Take Place Thursday, February 23

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In the wake of the hazing murder of Robert Champion, a gay student at Florida A & M University, Equality Florida has joined with students and community leaders to call upon the university to adopt a strong anti-discrimination/bullying policy.

Nadine Smith, Executive Director, Equality Florida, spoke to FAMU President James Ammons and the legal counsel for the university in advance of a meeting to call for the policy change. The administration agreed to bring the proposal to the board.
“I am encouraged by what I'm hearing from students, faculty, unions and some university staff and board members who have reached out. They understand that this isn't a bold stand, but rather a long overdue change that will improve FAMUs reputation and their ability to attract the best and the brightest."
Equality Florida (www.eqfl.org) is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida’s LGBT community.
During the FAMU Board of Trustees meeting, student Ciara Taylor took to the microphone to call on the university to take action:
“The tragic and senseless death of Robert Champion has resurfaced longstanding concerns about the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on FAMU's campus. A climate of hostility has grown unchecked for too long. I'm here to ask the board to demonstrate its commitment to diversity, respect and inclusion by adding ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ to all policies that currently include enumerated categories such as race, religion, ethnic origin, etc.  These are long overdue protections that will send a clear message that the safety of all students is paramount and that the university is a place where all are welcome to learn and excel.”
Several trustees and staff members have indicated their support for such a change. A coalition of student, faculty and community organizations have begun working together to ensure that a process of enacting essential protections moves forward with the urgency the matter deserves.
The call for inclusive policies comes as the university faces intense scrutiny following the death of Mr. Champion.  The National Black Justice Coalition is working on an initiative to get policies passed at all Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). They have also called for a federal investigation into Mr. Champion's death as a possible hate crime.
“We are thrilled that Equality Florida is standing with the National Black Justice Coalition in our national effort to achieve justice for Robert Champion, Jr. and to advance equality for LGBT students at HBCUs,” said Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition.  “NBJC wants all HBCUs, including FAMU, to create a safe, responsible and inclusive environment for LGBT people, especially its students. We look forward to working with Equality Florida in the months ahead.”    
 "A change in policy has long been a priority of the FAMU LGBT Pride Student Union. It has been great to see the community and the campus stand together. This is an important step for FAMU that is long overdue," said Yolanda Fairell, director of Tallahassee's Inclusive LGBTQA Task Force.

Shani Angela, a local community organizer who works closely with FAMU students, agrees that this is an opportunity for collaboration.  "The campus and community share responsibility and should take a leadership role in building vibrant and inclusive communities. These are important first steps toward creating safety and respect for all students, on and off campus."
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