Rep. Earl Ehrhart – one of the most outspoken anti-gay lawmakers in Georgia – led an attack on the LGBTQ center and student programs at Kennesaw State University, questioning its funding and mocking gender neutral pronouns as “fantasy language.”
Ehrhart spearheaded the conservative pile-on Monday during a two-hour hearing of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee that he chairs. He and other Republican lawmakers questioned Ken Harmon – KSU's interim president – and other university officials about the treatment of conservative students, their campus affinity organizations and the nearly $138,000 annual budget for the LGBTQ Resource Center.
“It is kind of Orwellian in my mind,” Ehrhart said during the hearing at the State Capitol. “You have some groups that are more equal than others.”
Ehrhart, a Cobb Republican, repeatedly questioned Harmon and K.C. White, KSU's vice president for student affairs, about how the school allocates state funding and student activity fees for the 250 student organizations on campus. But Ehrhart – who has trolled LGBTQ students and campus programming in the past – often zeroed in on resources for LGBTQ students.
“Some get massive resource allocations and some don't,” Ehrhart said. “Help me understand why they can draw down those funds, but the Young Republicans get zero. Help me understand the disparity there.”
Ehrhart then criticized the budget for the LGBTQ center, which includes office space and two staff members.
“This is a not a value judgment, this is a judgment on who gets what,” he said.
White said students pay $39 in student activity fees each semester and those funds are allocated by a student committee to scores of student organizations. Funding for the LGBTQ resource center – which comes from KSU's budget from the state – was put in place after a Student Government Association resolution calling for it in 2015, White said. KSU operates at least two other resource centers on campus.
White said KSU dedicates campus resources to student populations in most need of help to boost their retention and progress at the school.
“We do not have the space available to support all 250 organizations to the same degree,” White said. “All of our space is open to all of our students.”
But Ehrhart said KSU faces a “massive problem” in its funding and treatment of student groups.
The anti-LGBT group Alliance for Defending Freedom has sued KSU twice since February alleging that two conservative student groups – Ratio Christi and Young Americans for Freedom – have been treated unfairly. The lawsuits prompted the University System of Georgia to order a review of KSU's student affairs department and sparked Ehrhart's hearing at the State Capitol on Monday. KSU has also launched an outside audit of the department, Harmon said.
“I want to look at the overall priorities. That is our job here, to look at how the allocations are made. This is not about inclusiveness or non-inclusiveness. This is about equality of access to resources,” Ehrhart said.
Rep. Richard Smith, a Columbus Republican, said conservative students face discrimination on campus, a behavior he alleged is condoned and described as a “systemic problem in certain areas.”
“There are health conditions you get sometimes where you have to go in and cut out the cancer,” Smith said.
Rep. David Knight, a Griffin Republican, questioned the allocation of space for the LGBTQ Resource Center and an event series it has hosted called Queer Film Fridays.
“Is this a unique physical space only to the LGBTQ group,” Knight asked, after noting that the center has its own space and staff.
Again, White said the center is open to all students and is a resource for the entire campus.
“It sounds like this is a dedicated physical space,” Knight said. “We have one thing to do and that is appropriate dollars and what I am gathering, we have appropriated some amount of dollars or provide services toward one group.”
Knight then threatened the school's funding.
“Why are we segregating out different things? Why can't we just do money for events that everyone alike can attend? Why are we getting so specific with such politically charged groups that we are even allowing student fees on campus to be used in such a way that is so divisive,” Knight said.
“If you abuse it, I'll just take it away,” he added.
Knight also questioned programming offered by the LGBTQ Resource Center.
“Is everybody invited to the Queer Film Fridays,” he quipped.
“Those are completely open,” White responded.
“Let's move on,” Knight said.
Ehrhart also pointed to a pamphlet from the LGBTQ center that offers help on using gender neutral pronouns. Via the AJC:
The pamphlet suggests a new lexicon to cover the many forms of gendered pronouns in common use, such as “he,” “she,” “him,” “her,” “his,” “hers,” and includes the new coinages “ne,” “ve,” “ey,” “ze” “hir,” “zi,” and “ze.”
Ehrhart called the pamphlet “fantasy language” and questioned Harmon about its origins.
“This particular pronoun chart has the Kennesaw brand on it. That is a branded university sponsored – I don't know if was state funds that were used to print it. It is a university-sponsored pronoun. But you are telling us that the university is not adopting this set of fantasy language,” Ehrhart said.
“The university is not, sir. It was not something that was sanctioned, if you will, by the university,” Harmon said.
A staff member created the document and posted it to the LGBTQ center's online site, Harmon said.
Ehrhart said the pronoun pamphlet is “problematic.”
“Let me be clear. I don't care if people want to develop their own fantasy language. And if they pay for it, they come up with it, you can conjugate 75 other pronouns and pass them out on campus if you create it and you did it. But the university sponsorship of it is problematic. There may be people who don't find these pronouns appropriate or they may be concerned about those,” Ehrhart said.
Ehrhart, the longest serving Republican in the Georgia House, is retiring after 30 years in the legislature. His wife, Ginny, is among three Republicans running to replace him. The GOP winner of the primary in May will face Democrat Jen Slipakoff, who has volunteered with LGBT organizations and has a transgender daughter.
Ehrhart has a long track record of criticizing LGBT people and opposing equality issues as a state lawmaker. The subcommittee took no formal action during Monday's hearing.
Top photo: Rep. Earl Ehrhart during a House Judiciary Committee meeting in 2017 | bottom photo: Ehrhart holding a pamphlet about pronouns during a legislative hearing on Monday.