Eastern Zone Approves Anti-Discrimination Policy Aimed at Liberty University

Eastern Zone Swimming, the umbrella organization that sits over 12 USA Swimming LSCs in the Eastern United States, has approved a resolution that will keep the organization from doing any business that would be in violation of the Amateur Sports Act policies on discrimination. Specifically, the new policy was written in  response to Liberty University, a Christian University in Lynchburg, Virginia, being awarded hosting duties for a 2020 Zone Championship meet.

Bill Kirkner, a member of the Eastern Zone Diversity & Inclusion Committee representing Maryland, says that the issue was first raised at the 2018 convention, when Virginia Swimming announced Liberty’s new natatorium as a potential host site for an upcoming zone meet. At that time, several athlete representatives from Maryland spoke in opposition to the site based on “the institution’s expressed policies of discrimination in hiring and enrollment against L/G/B/T/Q persons.”

While the university’s officially published non-discrimination policy forbids discrimination in lawfully-protected classes like race, color, ancestry, religion, age, sex, national origin, pregnancy, or disability, the policy also explicitly states that they reserve the right to discriminate “on the basis of religion.”

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. has made several public statements indicating that the university will discriminate against those in the LGBTQ+ community. “Liberty University is pro-life and believes that marriage between one man and one woman provides the best environment for children,” Falwell once said of the university’s policies. “Liberty University will not lend its name or financial support to any student group that advances causes contrary to its mission…Liberty University will not lend its name or financial support to undermine marriage or to promote abortion.”

He also threatened to leave federal government programs that barred them from discriminating against homosexuality. Liberty University does have a subset of students that identify as LGBTQ+, however, and they organized a protest earlier this year against some of Falwell’s statements that the school’s official student newspaper, the Liberty Champion, acknowledged.

“The offices that I oversee exist to ensure that Liberty is an inclusive and welcoming place,” Chief Diversity Officer Greg Dowell said. “No external organization founded Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Liberty. It originated with our president. This is the message that needs to go out and be appreciated by all of our underrepresented groups.”

Dowell says that his job is to make the campus a welcoming place even for those who don’t agree with the university’s mission or doctrinal statement. The University’s doctrinal statement and mission do not explicitly mention homosexuality or gender identity.

At the USA Swimming convention, where the new resolution was proposed, Nadine Johnson, the Eastern Zone Diversity Chair, introduced a motion to reconsider the bid that was awarded to Virginia Swimming and to be hosted at Liberty University. While the leadership discussed the matter, the Eastern Zone athletes caucused in the back of the room.

Nick Poulos, a swimmer for NBAC and a member of the Maryland Swimming Board of Directors, spoke out on the original announcement in 2018 and emerged as a leader of this group and drafted a motion that the Eastern Zone would not be allowed to accept bids from organizations whose policies are in conflict with USA Swimming rule 304.3, and specifically this clause:

Discrimination in violation of the Amateur Sports Act which requires that USA Swimming must provide an equal opportunity to athletes, coaches, trainers, managers, administrators, and officials to participate in the sport of swimming. Athletes must be allowed to participate and compete to the fullest extent allowed by the Rules and Regulations. Discrimination against any member or participant on the basis of age, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, genetics, mental or physical disability, or any other status protected by federal, state or local law, where applicable, is prohibited.

While many states and municipalities have passed laws and ordinances protecting LGBTQ+ communities from discrimination, in Lynchburg, Virginia, where Liberty is located, there are no such local protections in place. In 2018, Virginia governor Ralph Northam signed an executive order protecting against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, though that policy wouldn’t officially extend beyond the state government’s hiring practices. The USA Swimming policy does, however, explicitly mention sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity as classes of discrimination that are ‘prohibited.’

When the Zone was called back to order, Kirkner recalls, Johnson withdrew her motion to cancel Liberty’s hosting, and the Chairs announced that once approved, the bid could not be reconsidered. However, Poulos’ resolution, as it would apply to future bid awards, was unanimously passed by a voice vote. It was clarified that existing bids, including Liberty University, would still move forward, though a “courtesy” request was put in with the Virginia Swimming LSC representatives to contact Liberty University about the matter.

Liberty University unveiled its new 75,000 square foot natatorium with capacity for over 1,414 spectators in December of 2017 for a dual meet between Liberty Universtiy and Campbell. Since its opening, the facility’s timing system has been plagued with errors that has resulted in the loss of National Age Group Records and significant delays and overturns of disqualifications at major meets. The school is installing a new timing system, however, that is expected to be ready for the upcoming 2019-2020 season.

SwimSwam has reached out to Liberty University for comment. A spokesperson for the school has acknowledged our email and says that he has forwarded the request to the appropriate parties. SwimSwam is also working to arrange a conversation with Poulos on the resolution.

 

Update: SwimSwam has gotten a chance to speak to Poulos about the motion:

“What it [the policy] is intended to do is simply to ensure that in the process of bidding for meets, that our Zone is complying with our values and the Code of Conduct that we have established in USA Swimming,” Poulos said.

When asked about the specific points of Liberty policy the motion was intended to address, Poulos said he couldn’t remember the exact policies that were discussed in the Zone meeting.

“I can’t remember the specific policy that was brought up, just that they [Liberty] have views about sexual orientation that are not necessarily welcoming to all our athletes,” Poulos said. “While the policies may not directly affect the way the meet is run, we feel that some of them may not be conducive to a completely positive environment for all of our athletes to compete fairly.”

“There were also some concerns from athletes and from coaches that they would not be properly welcomed at the facility,” he said.

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Boris George
2 years ago

Its encouraging to see USA Swimming taking a stand on this an enacting non-discriminatory legislation against the bigots in this world.

Swimmer
Reply to  Boris George
2 years ago

Especially from an athlete standpoint and voice

Pissed Off Coach
Reply to  Boris George
2 years ago

Taking a real stand would have involved VA Swimming not awarding Zones to Liberty in the first place. USA Swimming / VA Swimming / Eastern Zone finding a suitable replacement site for the 2020 meet to rectify the mistake also would be commendable.

Liberty is a hostile environment for LGBTQ swimmers. Any such swimmer shouldn’t have to choose between skipping a meet they qualify for or traveling to a meet location where they aren’t respected for who they are.

Boris George
Reply to  Pissed Off Coach
1 year ago

Good points.

SwimCoachDad
Reply to  Pissed Off Coach
1 year ago

I’ve never been to Liberty University and so all of this is unknown to me. I’m intrigued to know about the open hostility at a swim meet there. Have there been incidences of gay swimmers being accosted, threatened or protested? Do they push their beliefs on everyone who comes on campus for any reason? In what way is it a hostile environment if a LGBTQ swimmer comes to swim in a meet there?

W&M Fan
Reply to  SwimCoachDad
1 year ago

I have attended several meets at the facility and there was no hostility toward anyone attending the meet. From that perspective, it’s no different than any other location. From the standpoint of facilities, it’s extremely nice. There’s plenty of convenient parking and the pool itself was very nice with lots of seating. It’s also well designed for the elderly or disabled to access the seating. You can drop people right at the entrance, and the restrooms and seating are on that same level so no need for climbing stairs. There are a lot of positive attributes to using this facility.

SwimCoachDad
Reply to  W&M Fan
1 year ago

When statements are made like the one above about it being a hostile place toward anyone like; “Liberty is a hostile environment for LGBTQ swimmers. Any such swimmer shouldn’t have to choose between skipping a meet they qualify for or traveling to a meet location where they aren’t respected for who they are.” and the statement made by Poulous; “There were also some concerns from athletes and from coaches that they would not be properly welcomed at the facility,” he said.”, it is very concerning. It seems like there have been incidences in the past that would make this necessary. I’m just wondering what kind of problems there have been.

Inclusive Parent
2 years ago

This is fantastic. Big hat tip to the swimmers and reps from MD who put this forward. Now if only Va Swimming and the NCAA would follow suit.

Roster spots
Reply to  Inclusive Parent
2 years ago

Falwell, the former AD of Baylor during their troubles and Hugh Freeze. What a place.

Sam
2 years ago

I would not want to set foot at Liberty in any capacity. As long as there are other pools, no one should be forced to compete there.

Doconc
Reply to  Sam
2 years ago

Muslims routinely boycott Israel and Jewish facilities

Should they be sanctioned?

Boris George
Reply to  Doconc
2 years ago

Holy False Equivalency, Batman!!

Snarky
Reply to  Doconc
2 years ago

Muslims? American muslims follow US law. That kind of
Comment speaks volumes. Welcome to 2019.

DLSwim
Reply to  Doconc
2 years ago

Muslims do not routinely boycott Israel and Jewish facilities. Some muslim countries refuse to compete against israeli athletes in some sports, and they are sanctioned, actually.

Paul Thomas
Reply to  Doconc
2 years ago

Uh, the IPC just stripped Malaysia of hosting the 2019 Para Swim championships specifically because they discriminated against Israeli athletes. That’s directly analogous to sanctioning Liberty for discriminating against gay athletes.

This situation has nothing to do with individual choices by athletes to boycott particular countries or facilities. Athletes aren’t obligated to compete anywhere in particular. Hosts ARE obligated to allow qualified competitors to compete in a safe environment.

Brian M
Reply to  Paul Thomas
2 years ago

Is there an actual instance where Liberty University discriminated against a gay athlete? Specifically a USA Swimming gay athlete?

HS Coach
Reply to  Sam
2 years ago

Luckily no one ever gets forced to compete, at least not in this country. Eastern Zone is within their rights to pick a different venue, but Liberty is within theirs to run a Christian university according to their beliefs.

Sam
Reply to  HS Coach
1 year ago

Liberty is not within their right to run it the way they run it. Read the Politico investigative reports, they break all kind of rules including their own. And if there is a law against discrimination, it applies to them too.

Snarky
2 years ago

Legal leg to stand on? The ASA makes it a violation of
Federal law to discriminate based upon sexual orientation. https://www.teamusa.org/~/media/TeamUSA/Documents/Legal/Governance/090712_USOC%20Safe%20Sport%20Policy%20FINAL.pdf

Federal law trumps bigotry even in the name of faux “Christianity”. If that clown Falwell wants to play in the Olympic sport arena he needs to stop being a bigot.

Brian M
Reply to  Snarky
2 years ago

Ummm, not to be picky, but the Amateur Sports act (and other Federal laws) do no such thing. The discrimination rules they are speaking of are a part of USA Swimming by-laws.

Snarky
Reply to  Brian M
2 years ago

USAS by-laws say nothing of the sort. It’s in our rules and regulations which are consistent with the ASA. And yes, the ASA- safe sport legislation does make it a violation of the ASA (a federal law) to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. If you want to play In the Olympic sport arena, you must follow the rules. USAS or any other NGB holding a competition at Liberty could potentially face a federal lawsuit. Especially when the head of the university takes such a discriminatory stance.

Brian M
Reply to  Snarky
2 years ago

You need to check your facts. The ASA was written in 1978 and does not include a reference to sexual orientation. Also, safe sport legislation fails to mention this as well. USA swimming rule 304.3 is the rule addressing discrimination based upon sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.etc.

Snarky
Reply to  Brian M
1 year ago

Brian, you are simply WRONG. Here’s the text from the USOC Safesport regulations adopted this year. Note the exceptions: NONE. Sorry, just because you don’t like the law doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Harassment
(1) A repeated pattern of physical and/or non-physical behaviors that (a) are intended to cause fear, humiliation or annoyance, (b) offend or degrade, (c) create a hostile environment or (d) reflect discriminatory bias in an attempt to establish dominance, superiority or power over an individual athlete or group based on gender, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender expression or mental or physical disability; or
(2) Any act or conduct described as harassment under federal or state law.
Exceptions
None
… Read more »

Taa
Reply to  Snarky
2 years ago

“The ASA makes it a violation of federal law”? The document you linked doesnt state that anywhere.

Snarky
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

The ASA gives the USOC the authority to adopt regulations. Regulations adopted by the USOC are federal laws affecting amateur Olympic sports and NGB members. The 2018 Safe Sport Amendments to the ASA gave USOC Safe Sport exclusive jurisdiction over this area as to NGB’s and NGB members.

As the federal court in Florida stated in Callahan v. USOC Center for Safe Sport, 2018 WL 4107951 (S.D.Fla. 2018):

“In March of 2017, USOC chartered the United States Center for SafeSport (SafeSport) and Congress recently enacted legislation to address the issue of athlete abuse. Signed into law on February 14, 2018, the Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017, 36 U.S.C. § 220503(15) (the… Read more »

Taa
Reply to  Snarky
1 year ago

I do appreciate the extensive explanation. I’ll just make one last point though. You imply that that the ASA is a broad anti discrimination law. It’s not its just to protect athletes from harassment. So if Liberty hangs no gays allowed signs by the pool entrance they would be in violation but if not and the pool employees are otherwise treating the pool guests equally I don’t believe any statement made by Falwell are relevant.

Snarky
Reply to  Taa
1 year ago

You are missing the point. The 2018 Amendments to the ASA DO MAKE anti-abuse/ anti-harassment/ anti-discrimination a new focus of the ASA. If a university has an anti-gay policy it violates the ASA Safe Sport rules it can (and should) be barred from benefitting from or participating in an NGB sponsored event. That’s just the law. Liberty has the right to have a prejudicial policy in the name of its brand of “Christianity” but the USOC (per federal law under the ASA) has the right to say, “Liberty, you don’t get to participate in Olympic sports because of your policies that violate our inclusive ones.” The policy of Liberty to discriminate based upon sexual orientation is the policy and violates… Read more »

JimSwim22
Reply to  Snarky
1 year ago

Are regulations created by government entities actually laws or is there differentiation between laws and regulations?

Snarky
Reply to  JimSwim22
1 year ago

A regulation is a law. Just executively designed.

Taa
2 years ago

Falwell is a hypocrite but if I finish running a marathon on a hot day and his swimming pool was at the finish line I wouldnt hesitate to jump in to cool off.

13 % Chinese person
Reply to  Taa
2 years ago

I am Corn Pop & I stan this . Like me & Joe we have to put our differences aside in the pool .

Dudeman
2 years ago

I guess the timing system isn’t the only thing messed up there

2 Cents
Reply to  Dudeman
1 year ago

Haha, what’s that you say? Did you know the sky is blue and bears do poop in the woods. We are just saying obvious things here right?

Brian M
2 years ago

This is really a stretch. I am no fan of Liberty, but if the Eastern Zone is going to do this, then they need to prohibit meets at every religiously affiliated facility under their purview. Is there an actual instance where an Eastern Zone athlete/participant was discriminated against, or is this just a pre-emptive strike? And btw, this issue has to be adjudicated with the national board of review, not the zone level.

Brian M
Reply to  Brian M
2 years ago

So, we go after just “super-terrible”, but leave the “kinda-terrible” ones be? Why not go after Catholic schools? They don’t allow women to become priests, so that is discriminatory. Since over 50% of the USA swimming membership is female, shouldn’t that be a huge issue? that’s the issue with our country today, it’s all about a-la carte outrage, and not rule of law.

2 Cents
Reply to  Brian M
1 year ago

I think the main issue is that in Libertys stated policy, it does actually say that they can discriminate based on religion. No where in the Catholic doctrine does it say that they CAN or WILL discriminate based on religion. Notre Dame will still let students in who are not Catholic and their hiring practices do say that they will not discriminate based on religion. Liberty is using that wording in their official policy that they can discriminate based on religion to carry it over into the LGBTQ+ community. Sure other places might do it, but they dont outwardly advertise it like Liberty does, thus liberty is an easy (and well deserved) target for this kind of action…. Their official… Read more »

retired coach
Reply to  2 Cents
1 year ago

Yes, I would argue that it is actually the religious nature of the educational institution that must be considered. Many collegiate and pre-college educational institutions, like Liberty, are missional, weaving their religious beliefs throughout the curriculum and culture of the education they provide with the goal of advancing their religion in both their own community as well as in society as a whole. (Yes, there are many educational institutions in America which were founded with this same missional goal religiously, but which no longer ascribe to that goal). This “religious mission” makes educational institutions like Liberty much less like a Chick-fil-a or Hobby Lobby business and much more like a church, synagogue, or mosque. As such, to prohibit these types… Read more »

2 Cents
Reply to  retired coach
1 year ago

Some are more inclusive than others… Liberty being evangelical is very discriminatory in their practices though. That aside, they do take federal government money for certain programs affiliated and using the Liberty name, and that is wrong if you discriminate based on religion while taking federal money. Furthermore, we are not really discussing the legality of this decision by Eastern Zone Swimming, but more so the morality and that (IMHO) is a good and deserving decision. If they want to self sustain and bankroll their own endeavors in the name of their religion while being extremely discriminatory then okay, but just know that organizations will and should stay clear of doing business with them and they should not be allowed… Read more »

retired coach
Reply to  2 Cents
1 year ago

I don’t think this swimswam comment thread is getting much traffic anymore. If you would like to continue to discuss this issue with me, I will ask Braden to send you my email address and I will try to answer the questions and challenges you posed here. Thanks.

Dave
Reply to  Brian M
1 year ago

Good comment. Also, Liberty? Seriously? Regardless of how you or I feel about it, the place is famously (infamously?) one of the most conservative Christian schools in the country. The school is Ground Zero for the conservative Christian movement, a “bastion of the Christian right” according to The Washington Post. The school was founded as a reaction to what Jerry Falwell perceived as the moral failings of US colleges, the stated mission of Liberty is its adherence to Falwell’s vision of “moral” positioning through its honor code and policies. I’m confused why the organizers of Zones selected such a lightning rod location to host their competition? They must have known they were playing with fire, perhaps they were looking to… Read more »

Coach
Reply to  Dave
1 year ago

Nope – nobody thought they were playing with fire. The “organizers of the zone” didn’t select it. The body accepted the bid. I don’t remember anyone batting en eye when the meet was originally bid out. The meet was bid a year ago. For some clarification and in the spirit of getting the story straight – many who were there during the bidding in 2018 have zero recollection of anyone voicing concern about Liberty hosting a meet – including me. I certainly challenge the notion that “several athletes fro Maryland’ did so. It makes for a better story. But I don’t think it happened. Also no one athlete led the athletes on this discussion. The MD athlete delivered the proposal… Read more »

2 Cents
Reply to  Coach
1 year ago

I dont think anyone knew about them being rewarded the bid, because it was never a story or reported, on this site, or any other for that matter (not a slight on this site by any means). But in reply to Dave’s comment above, I personally do not like liberty or what they stand for, however, JFSr was NOTHING like JFJr… he had his views and founded the school and ran the school on them, but he was not political to the extent JFJr is, he never bad mouthed his employees or members of the community, and was objectively a nice person and moral to the extent that he would never try to skirt the law and was not a… Read more »

W&M Fan
Reply to  Brian M
1 year ago

Perhaps you’re not aware, but they are also a very large philanthropic organization. Ever heard of Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Services? You may want to think a bit more about burning it all down.

retired coach
2 years ago

This is Jon Lederhouse and am well acquainted with the religious requirements of Christian Educational Institutions, like Liberty. This is an issue of sexual behavior in a religious context and is not a case of discrimination against a particular group. Ignoring the news circulating around the current president at Liberty, similar Christian institutions have had sexual behavior requirements of their employees and students that forbid any sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and woman, whether heteosexual, homosexual or bisexual for over a hundred years (no one type of sexual behavior is singled out by these institutions as illicit). Those who wish to join this type of institution willingly agree to these behavioral restrictions regardless of their own sexual… Read more »

retired coach
Reply to  (G)olden Bear
1 year ago

As I said, “Ignoring the news circulating around the current president at Liberty.” This issue exists independent of anything Jerry Fawell Jr. does or says and to bring him into the discussion will certainly muddy the waters.

Dude
Reply to  retired coach
1 year ago

I feel these sexual rules are enforced far more with women at least if it anything like BYU (check out some of the grievances with the honor code if you don’t believe me) which makes the rules sexist as well as homophobic.

retired coach
Reply to  Dude
1 year ago

I cannot reference any actual research into this accusation of unequal application of sexual rules at institutions like Liberty, and cannot speak to this BYU reference. But in my personal experience at a similar institution the rules were applied to students and employees equally or perhaps skewed only slightly against the males. But, this is only an anecdotal response to disagree with your premise on sexism. “Homophobic rules”? Not to those heterosexual students and employees disciplined for violating the sexual behavior requirements!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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