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04/10/2013 10:52 am ET

Gender-Neutral Housing At University Of North Carolina Would Be Halted Under New Bill

Three lawmakers in North Carolina want to put a hold on the forthcoming gender-neutral housing policy at all campuses in the University of North Carolina system.

The policy, which was approved unanimously by the UNC Board of Trustees in November 2012, is scheduled for implementation in the Fall 2013 semester on the school's Chapel Hill campus. Under that policy, students of the opposite sex could live together in shared suites with a common bathroom; bedrooms would be single occupancy. Advocates for the new policy, like Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer, argue such policies are necessary for students in the LGBT community to protect their safety and well-being.

But under the proposed legislation, the UNC system would only be allowed to provide gender-neutral housing options to students who are siblings or are legally married with a valid marriage license on file with the school. The bill was filed on April 2, according to the Associated Press, and is sponsored by state Sens. David Curtis (R-Gaston), Ben Clark (D-Cumberland) and Chad Barefoot (R-Franklin).

Curtis said he sponsored the bill because the UNC system needs to focus on its core mission of "educating young people."

"UNC did not become a national leader in academics by wasting time and tax dollars on frivolous social experiments," Curtis said in a statement to media outlets.

The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a staff editorial that Curtis' comment is an insult to students who struggle to succeed because of their housing situation.

The Gender Non-Specific Housing Campaign at UNC took offense as well.

"We believe that access to safe housing is the farthest thing from a 'frivolous social experiment,'" the group said in a Facebook post. "Allowing students to choose roommates who they know and are friends with decreases the likelihood of students' experiencing harassment, threats, or intimidation in their housing situation. This in turn allows them greater ability to concentrate on their academics."

UNC system president Tom Ross told WCHL that this type of legislation puts lawmakers too close to micromanaging the state's public colleges.

"When the legislature gets that directly involved in particular policies of the university -- I think that's why they elect the Board of Governors is so they can pay attention to the policies of the university," Ross said.

Not so, says Barefoot.

"This bill does not tell the universities how to deal with disputes that arise between college roommates," Barefoot told The Huffington Post. "It simply states that the UNC system shall prohibit the assignment of students of the opposite sex to the same dorm room, dorm suite or campus apartment unless they are siblings or married."

Barefoot told HuffPost he doesn't understand how "a policy that assigns young men and young women to the same dorm suite and private bathroom" will help achieve "excellence in the classroom."

At the time the gender-neutral housing plan was approved in North Carolina, 100 colleges nationwide had such a policy, the Daily Tar Heel reported. UNC-Chapel Hill would've become the first public university in North Carolina to implement gender-neutral housing, according to Campus Pride.

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