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08/07/2013 05:34 pm ET Updated Aug 08, 2013

UNC Board Of Governors Considers Ban On Gender-Neutral Housing

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A housing practice meant to help LGBT students feel safer and more comfortable living on campus may soon be banned at multiple public colleges in North Carolina.

On Friday, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors plans to consider a proposal to ban gender-neutral housing at all campuses in the system. The UNC Board of Trustees had unanimously supported the establishment of a pilot program for such housing at the Chapel Hill campus in November.

Gender-neutral, or gender nonspecific, housing allows students of the opposite sex to share suites or apartments on campus. Proponents contend that it reduces the likelihood that LGBT students will face harassment, threats or intimidation in their living quarters.

Currently, only 0.36 percent of residential living spaces, 32 spots in all, at the one campus within UNC's entire system will be devoted to gender-neutral housing under the pilot program. Students must opt in to be considered for the spaces; no one can be required to live there. In-state rival Duke University and seven of the eight Ivy League colleges also offer gender-neutral housing. Cornell University, the one Ivy League exception, is on its way toward having a program.

The UNC pilot program is set to begin with the fall semester, which means passage of the board of governors' proposal would force the participants to rework their housing arrangements days before they're scheduled to move in.

The program has already survived attempts by lawmakers to stop it. "UNC did not become a national leader in academics by wasting time and tax dollars on frivolous social experiments," state Sen. David Curtis (R-Gaston) said in a statement in April, explaining his bill to prevent gender-neutral housing at the university. The proposal before the board of governors mirrors Curtis' legislative language.

Peter Hans, chairman of the board of governors, has called the housing option an "unnecessary and unhelpful distraction."

"We felt it was important to maintain our autonomy over our housing policy, and while this effort was well-intentioned, there are more practical accommodations which can be made for those students interested in this program," Hans told the Durham Herald-Sun.

Eight members of the UNC Board of Governors, including Hans and members of the public affairs committee, did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Huffington Post. Hans is a onetime policy adviser to former Republican Sens. Lauch Faircloth and Elizabeth Dole and current Republican Sen. Richard Burr, all of North Carolina.

While the chairman of the board thinks that gender-neutral housing is "unnecessary," the student newspaper Daily Tar Heel called the effort by state lawmakers to halt the policy "an insult to deserving students who struggle to succeed because of their housing situation."

UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Christy Lambden said he's disappointed that officials are debating a ban.

"Everybody has overlooked the massive support that this program received from the student population at Carolina," Lambden told HuffPost. "Ultimately, this program was introduced to improve the safety of students, and I haven't seen student safety taken into account during the course of the discussions both in the state Legislature and at the board of governors."

Campus Pride, an LGBT student advocacy group, is organizing a protest for the Friday board meeting in Chapel Hill. Campus Pride contends that the board is trying to pass this ban behind closed doors while students are away from campus and that it has refused to allow students to speak at the meeting.

"Banning gender-inclusive housing on the seventeen UNC system campuses does not serve the safety of any student," Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said in a statement. "It is dangerous and reckless to take such a broad sweeping action. Research shows that LGBT students experience heightened rates of harassment and discrimination at our colleges and universities, including in campus housing. Students should not have to feel unsafe or be fearful where they eat, sleep, and live on campus."

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