03/15/2012 03:47 pm ET Updated May 15, 2012

It's More Than a Housing Issue -- It's About Respect

This week, the university has a chance to join in this generation's civil rights movement.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans are still denied basic, fundamental rights because of an innate, uncontrollable, harmless facet of their identity. In what many call the greatest nation in the world, society is actively marginalizing your fellow citizens.

We cannot allow this to continue any longer.

GLBT citizens are told day in and day out that they are different, immoral and disgusting. That they are causing the downfall of this nation and the unraveling of families.

It still is socially acceptable in many circles to express hateful, discriminatory, even violent sentiments about these people in polite conversation. In fact, we live in a state where regular citizens feel comfortable spouting toxic hostility and contempt for them in the public forum of a city council meeting.

These individuals can be fired, denied housing, kept from adopting children, banned from teaching, barred from basic tax and inheritance rights and denied validation of their relationships from the state. They still face daily discrimination, harassment, violence and murder. They can be driven to suicide.

A congressional representative in Oklahoma said these citizens are more dangerous than terrorists, and Rick Santorum, who Oklahoma has nominated to run for president of the United States, compared their love to pedophilia and bestiality.

These citizens are relegated to second-class status, easily denied acknowledgement and basic rights, on the basis of who they have sex with and what gender traits they feel comfortable expressing.

GLBT Americans face the very real, everyday threats of isolation, bigotry and hate. It is ridiculous that we are still debating civil rights, that there still is so much stubborn opposition to the proposition that all men -- those you like and those you don't -- are created equal. It is backward, unacceptable and, frankly, insane.

It is time for change. OU now has one small, symbolic but effective way to challenge that reality. Sooners cannot afford to play it safe.

The gender-neutral housing option students will present today to President David Boren would give students the choice to live with students of any gender. This is an important right for all OU students, but it is particularly important for GLBT students, because it provides a safe home on campus -- something many do not have.

Gender-neutral housing means the choice to live with someone who students know will be supportive of their sexuality or gender identity. It means freedom from discomfort, discrimination, harassment and fear.

It means the choice to live with those who are most comfortable with them, and, in turn, to live in the environment they find most comfortable -- a right taken for granted by every other student at OU.

It means one small step toward equal treatment for GLBT citizens. It means a step into the 21st century for OU and for Oklahoma. It means the University of Oklahoma being a true leader.

It means equality.

This is something OU must do. It is only a little step, but every little step is important. Sooners may not be able to change the world today, but we certainly can change OU.

We have heard it said that change like this can't happen here because this is Oklahoma, as if Oklahomans can't care about equal treatment and human rights. But this will always be Oklahoma -- the same old Oklahoma -- until we make it better.

So this is not just about providing a new housing option for one group of students. This is about ensuring every American has access to the American Dream, to the equality of rights guaranteed by our Constitution.

This policy is a message to every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender member of the Sooner community that they are worthy of acknowledgment, protection, support and safety.

This issue affects us all. Equality isn't a special interest. Americans have a responsibility to demand the promises of our founding be fulfilled and to fight so their fellow citizens may be recognized as human beings worthy of the same regard, the same respect, the same basic dignity.

This country has struggled to answer that demand and win that fight for a long time. It's still struggling. We are calling on our fellow Sooners and the University of Oklahoma to join that struggle and take this simple, powerful step to reject repression and affirm freedom for all.

And that's why it's more than a housing issue.