University of Pittsburgh
April 27, 1999

SAME-SEX HEALTH BENEFITS PROTEST UPDATE

Contact:  412-624-4147

The University has notified the students involved in the hunger strike that the Chairman of the Board of Trustees remains willing to meet with representatives of the group once they end their hunger strike. This offer was made last week as part of the University's ongoing efforts to reach a reasonable compromise with the protesters.

Allegations by the protesters of being ignored by the administration are not supported by the facts:

• Almost immediately after they began their strike, the Chancellor met with the students.

• Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Robert Gallagher has been in almost daily contact with the students.

• The University has offered ongoing medical assistance to the strikers.

• The Chairman of the Board of Trustees continues to honor his offer to meet with representatives of the group.

The response of the hunger strikers has been to continue to hold the threat of harming themselves over the University's head unless we hold a public meeting. The University will not accede to that demand for several reasons:

• We do not believe that the University's Board of trustees' agenda should be determined by a handful of individuals who threaten self-inflicted harm if we do not obey their personal demands. In this regard we believe our actions are consistent with those of all other universities, government bodies and news organizations.

• The University's position on the issues under discussion, i.e. provision of benefits to same-sex domestic partners, has been amply discussed in public. In fact, in today's Post-Gazette, there is a column by the Executive Vice Chancellor of the University once again detailing the University's position.

• In addition to demanding the meeting with the Chancellor, which was already granted, and the demand for a public meeting of the Board, the group's other issues (extending health benefits to same sex domestic partners, opposition to the University's defense in the Henson suit, a public apology from the Board for "all wrongdoing," and the establishment of a "Queer Theory Curriculum") have been given sufficient attention by the news media to make a further public forum unnecessary.

The University of Pittsburgh has long been committed to fairness, equity and free speech, and our programs and policies demonstrate this commitment. The lawsuit that is at the heart of the hunger strikers' protest is not one that the University sought. We believe that the goal of the lawsuit is not to correct an illegal policy, because the University of Pittsburgh's position is perfectly legal. The goal of the lawsuit is to make an end run around the law and try to accomplish in the court of public opinion what has not been accomplished legislatively in this Commonwealth; that is to change the legal definition of "marriage" and "spouse" to include same-sex couples. We believe that the efforts of the hunger strikers are supportive of that end run. In light of that, we have consistently encouraged the students to pursue their agenda in a more positive way through the legislature.

The University continues to be concerned about the health of the students involved in the strike and we sincerely hope they will accept our offer and end their protest.

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