UC Berkeley News


On sexual and gender diversity
A statement of principle from Chancellor Birgeneau

08 May 2008

At UC Berkeley, we believe that discrimination against any member of our community hurts the university as a whole. Recently, several issues have focused attention on the lack of equal rights for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer (LGBTIQ) community. A ruling on the constitutional right to same-sex marriage is expected in June from the California Supreme Court. Notwithstanding the eventual outcome, opponents of same-sex marriage have apparently gathered enough signatures to place on the November ballot a measure to amend the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman would be valid or recognized in California. A second ballot initiative being sought to ban same-sex marriage would also repeal domestic-partner benefits. In other areas of inequality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues its policy of refusing blood donations from gay men while the military persists with its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Here at Berkeley, issues of equal rights and inclusion of our LGBTIQ community have come into sharper focus as we have formed the new office of Vice-Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion under Professor Gibor Basri and engaged with a reinvigorated Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on LGBT Community at Cal (CAC-LGBT).

Shortly after arriving at UC Berkeley in 2004, I began speaking publicly through various media about the need to make our campus an inclusive and welcoming environment for all. Although much of our attention focuses on race and ethnicity, our equity-and-inclusion initiative is much more broadly and holistically defined to include all populations. It is important that we speak out for full inclusion and equal treatment of all members of our community, including those of us — faculty, staff, students, and alumni of all ethnicities and races — who identify as LGBTIQ. We must foster a climate on this campus that will not tolerate homophobic behavior.

During the national debates on legalization of same-sex marriage that were taking place in Canada in 2003 (Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005), as then-president of the University of Toronto, I wrote publicly on the university’s role in “Celebrating Sexual Diversity.” This article generated more public debate than any other issue that I confronted during my tenure as president. At this moment in history, when LGBTIQ citizens still lack some basic rights in our state and nation, I am proud that the Berkeley campus, with its legendary liberalism and leadership in human-rights issues, is playing a leadership role in affirming the position that any treatment of individuals that is not equal and inclusive is discriminatory and harms the university.

We in academe have an obligation to show leadership in areas where fairness and inclusion are at risk and public opinion may be uninformed or fearful, and we will continue to do so in order to foster an inclusive environment at Cal. In 1983, non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was added to UC policy. Domestic-partner health and retirement benefits were added in 1997 and 2002, respectively, with transgender (sex-change) health coverage for faculty and staff added in 2005. In 2004 the University of California adopted a policy of gender-identity non-discrimination.

On the academic front, we want to be leaders in the study of sexuality, sexual cultures, and sexual diversity. We offer a minor to undergraduates in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies and a graduate Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality. We are home to the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture, bringing a range of high-profile visiting scholars and speakers to campus. Our theme programs in residence halls include Unity House, unique to Berkeley and ground-breaking in its intentional focus on gender and sexuality. The affiliated University Students’ Cooperative Association pioneered the LGBTIQ-themed Oscar Wilde House in 1999. The Gender Equity Resource Center is the cornerstone of a rich array of resources and services that support our LGBTIQ community. UC Berkeley has scored 5 out of 5 stars on the nationwide LGBT-Friendly Campus Climate Index.

We celebrate the fact that our campus diversity includes those who encompass the full range of sexual orientations and gender identities, as we acknowledge an ongoing need to illuminate the richness of perspective and creative advantages gained from full inclusion of all populations. To recruit and retain the best faculty and staff and attract and educate the brightest students requires no less.

Indeed, it is the celebration of all members of society, including those who identify as LGBTIQ, that provides the rich diversity of intellectual life and creative learning environment that are at the heart of this great university. No individuals associated with our university should feel that they are any less than full members of our community. This is our commitment to equity and inclusion at UC Berkeley.
— Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor

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