Most professional jobs provide benefits for employees such as insurance and other financial perks.
Sam Houston State University provides many benefits to faculty and staff. however, not all benefits are accessible to employees and their partners who are members of the LGBTQ community, as in most of other professional workplaces.
SHSU’s faculty senate, a group of elected senators that express the concerns and interests of the university-wide faculty, is trying to make these benefits available to same-sex marriage spouses.
Phillip Lyons, interim dean of the College of Criminal Justice, said he knows first-hand the effects of this issue.
“Since I am gay, I’m a little biased, but I think that all faculty members should get the same package regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Lyons said. “I do know that we have gay and lesbian faculty, and the Faculty Senate is the appropriate vehicle to express faculty concerns. Moreover, some faculty think this is an unfair inequity and finally, I think the Faculty Senate recognizes that it is more difficult to recruit faculty members when there are discriminatory policies in place.”
Right now, same-sex spouses do not receive all, if any, of the financial benefits opposite-sex couples receive. Married couples and their children often receive benefits through their workplaces to help cover costs like healthcare and education, but since same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Texas yet, usually these benefits do not do anything for same-sex spouses.
“Had I had access to those benefits, it would have paid for my son’s college education,” Lyons said. “If I had the Federal Income Tax benefits, it could have paid for an Ivy League college education. The withholding of those benefits also communicates something symbolically.”
Efforts to get these benefits for same-sex couples at SHSU have been occurring for the last decade, but the levels of support given have varied. Now some states have legalized same-sex marriage, and the issue is becoming more evident.
“I recognize that there are rules and laws that have to be followed and perhaps it’s not surprising that the Interim Dean of Criminal Justice likes to follow rules,” he said. “Although I would like to provide these benefits to my students and faculty staff, I can’t. As much as my hands are tied, so are my boss’ hands and his boss’ hands.”
With access to these benefits, same-sex spouses, though not legally recognized as married in the state of Texas, would receive equal financial treatment as opposite-sex spouses.
“It would communicate a message about valuing everybody on campus equally,” Lyons said. “I think it would provide financial equity and make it easier to recruit qualified faculty and students.”
Lyons is currently in his 20th year at SHSU and in his fourth month serving as interim dean of criminal justice.
“Sam Houston has always been a welcoming place as far as I have experienced as evident by the fact that I was appointed interim dean,” Lyons said. “If I had any concerns about hostility toward LGBT persons on campus, I certainly would not have granted an interview with The Houstonian.”