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USF president issues statement on gays, lesbians

University of South Florida president Frank Borkowski issued a statement this week reaffirming that he wants lesbians and gays to be full members of the university community.

But the statement stops short of offering legal protection against discrimination on campus.

Borkowski did that a year ago, only to be told by state officials that a state university could not protect gays and lesbians without a corresponding change in state law.

Still, the new statement "is intended to reflect a commitment to equality of opportunity and human understanding," said Bryan Burgess, USF's chief lawyer. "Those are important values."

Several members of a faculty/staff gay and lesbian caucus said they were pleased with Borkowski's statement, though they wished he had been allowed to give it more legal teeth.

"I think what it shows is that we need at the state level some legislation," said associate professor Linda Lopez McAlister. A number of states have either passed laws or issued executive orders protecting at least state employees from discrimination over their sexual orientation, she said.

Borkowski's statement, which he called a "commitment to standards of conduct" was distributed on campus Monday.

Borkowski said he has always tried to promote "an institutional environment that enhances the possibility for all members of the university community to develop their personal skills and capacities, be they intellectual, technical or social, in an atmosphere of tolerance and civility. My commitment does not exclude any groups of faculty, staff, students or individuals."

The statement noted the absence of any state or federal anti-discrimination laws for lesbians and gays. "I must stress, however, that any act of harassment toward members of any group, including the gay or lesbian community, is totally unacceptable at this university and will be the subject of appropriate investigation, legal action and positive measures."

Some problems, such as assaults or hate-motivated harassment, could be handled through existing laws, Burgess said. Others, such as on-the-job discrimination, would have to be handled by less formal means, such as counseling and education, he said.

USF is exempt from Tampa and Hillsborough County anti-discrimination laws because it is a state institution.