LGBTQ advocates are demanding that the Orange County Board of Supervisors nix a partnership with the evangelical Christian Vanguard University, arguing it violates the county’s nondiscrimination policy because of the university’s views on homosexuality and gay marriage.

Last month the county Human Resources department finalized a deal with Vanguard to offer county employees a 10 to 25% reduced tuition rate.

The school is affiliated with the Pentecostal Christian sect Assemblies of God, which rejects homosexuality, gay marriage and premarital sex. Students who engage in actions that violate community standards can be subject to discipline, according to a policy on the University’s website.

Contracting with a university that rejects homosexuality and students of other faiths is in violation of the county’s own non-discrimination policy, argues a complaint filed by Orange County Health Care Agency employee Chris Prevatt.

The county’s policy prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, sexual orientation and other protected classes, and requires the county to provide “equal opportunities in all aspects of employment,” for all employees.

Jeff LeTourneau, co-chair of the LGBT Caucus of the Orange County Democratic Party, said unless Vanguard were to amend its nondiscrimination policy, he considers the partnership “outrageous.”

“The principal is very clear — that anything that has to do with employee benefits has to be equally available under the EEO policy. And this benefit has conditions attached to it that makes it not equal for everyone to receive the same benefits,” LeTourneau said.

Deals with Brandman and National University for reduced tuition partnerships have come before supervisors several times this year.

Second district Supervisor John Moorlach delayed the approval of a recent deal with National University three times, citing concern over the lack of a vetting standard for the colleges’ academic and financial credibility.

This latest partnership with Vanguard didn’t come before Supervisors because they approved a policy in July giving the Human Resources department the authority to initiate the deals themselves.

That policy requires schools to have full regional accreditation and be a nonprofit organization in order to enter into a partnership with the county.

In exchange for a reduced tuition rate, schools can post program ads on internal county communications and hold information sessions for employees on County property at pre-arranged lunch events. They can also request use of the County’s name and logo with specific approval.

Prevatt, an openly gay man, wrote in his complaint that “the school’s statement of faith and behavioral standards “make it clear that this institution specifically promotes, advocates, and defends discrimination against individuals on the basis of religious faith and sexual orientation.”

Vanguard officials did not respond Monday to calls for comment.

All educational institutions that receive federal funding must be in compliance of Title IX, a section of the federal education code which prohibits discrimination based on race, class, sex, religion and other protected classes.

Religious institutions such as Vanguard, however, are granted exemptions that allow them to govern their schools — including who can enroll and what social and community standards students must follow — in accordance with their religious affiliation.

Christian colleges have attracted increasing controversy in recent years as students have gone to court over religious exemptions from gender nondiscrimination laws.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education granted George Fox University an exemption, rejecting a complaint filed by a transgender man who was refused from male student housing. In July, a California judged ruled that California Baptist University was within its rights to expel a transgender woman.

Another Christian school, Gordon College in Mass., attracted media focus when it petitioned President Barack Obama to exempt it from an order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation. The school was later dropped from a contract with the city of Salem to maintain its publicly owned Old Town Hall facility.

“Promoting such an organization, using county email resources and facilities, tells county employees that the County has no problem engaging in a partnership with an organization that practices and teaches to its students the principles of intolerance,” Prevatt wrote, arguing that employees can reasonably infer an affirmation of Vanguard’s position based on the partnership.

He argues that because all county contracts include a non-discrimination clause, it is illegal for the county to form a contractual relationship with any entity that can’t comply with its EEO policy.

State code also applies a nondiscrimination clause to all programs or activities that are conducted by state agencies or receive state funding. 

In response to Prevatt’s complaint, HR manager Eduardo Monge said the reduced tuition partnerships do not constitute endorsement of any institution.

“It is up to each employee to evaluate whether a particular institution meets their educational needs,” Monge wrote.

County spokeswoman Jean Pasco said Monday that the program is voluntary and employees have the option of two other colleges if they cannot attend Vanguard.

“We aren’t forcing anybody to attend classes,” Pasco said.

When asked to comment on the partnership and a potential violation of the policy, Pasco declined to comment, writing in an email, “We’re going to let what’s on the webpage for the program speak for itself.”

The website states that the partnerships are not an endorsement of any particular views or institutions.

Moorlach said the partnership was initiated after the board of supervisors’ April 29 meeting where he presented Vanguard’s basketball team with an award. The school’s president suggested the partnership, Moorlach said, and he was not further involved in details of the contract.

He declined to comment on whether the Vanguard partnership could violate the nondiscrimination policy but said, “diversity goes both ways.”

LeTourneau disagreed.

“You also have to accept groups that are bigoted and that violate the state’s anti-discrimination language? It’s not a two-way street,” LeTourneau said. “That’s just silly.”

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