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Correctional Facilities Company More LGBT-inclusive Than Both Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton

by Dylan Bouscher
Wednesday Mar 13, 2013

GEO Group, a prison security company, may be bad, but its policies go above and beyond to protect LGBT people - more than can be said for Florida Atlantic University and the city in which it (and GEO Group itself) was founded, Boca Raton.

Protests are continuing at the school after FAU's president made it clear the now-famous decision to let GEO Group name the University's $70-million football stadium was final. For $6 million, GEO will put its name on the stadium for 12 years. It's a "gift," according to the FAU Foundation, which funnels donations into FAU.

Students are upset over the name because GEO Group has a shady past that's marred with human rights violations, which the company denies. Despite this, the company has more LGBT-inclusive protections for its employees than FAU or the City of Boca Raton.

In the company's Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, GEO protects its employees from discrimination based on "sexual orientation," and "gender identity."

At FAU, sexual orientation became protected just in 2011. Gender identity still isn't.

As of press time, FAU hasn't responded to SFGN's interview requests.

And Boca Raton doesn't protect LGBT employees either. In January 2011, Boca became the only city in Palm Beach County to opt-out of a county ordinance that does include both protections. The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has been trying to change that.

A quick search of the GEO Group's open jobs shows that the company at least offers domestic partner insurance benefits to employees in other states, according to Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC) President Rand Hoch. Neither the City of Boca nor FAU offer these insurance benefits.

"This is another example of how far behind the times both FAU and the City of Boca Raton are," Hoch told SFGN. "[GEO Group] realize that it is important to offer their employees domestic partner benefits, which the university and the city of Boca Raton still does not realize."

As of press time, GEO Group hasn't responded to SFGN's interview requests.

The stadium itself has since been dubbed "Owlcatraz" by students opposed to the deal. The name is in reference to the school's mascot - the burrowing owl. The "Stop Owlcatraz Coalition" of students, faculty and staff against the deal staged a two-hour sit-in protest outside FAU's President Mary J. Saunders' office until she agreed to an open question and answer meeting Friday, March 1 at noon.

At the meeting, Saunders told the coalition, made up of students from Lambda United, FAU's on-campus LGBT alliance, the deal was final.

Rory Padgett, a gay 23-year-old film major and former vice president of the club, claims the coalition will keep reaching out to organizations and the media for support, and plan "teach-ins" about the GEO Group and the prison industrial complex.

GEO's past is closely intertwined with FAU, which graduated its founder. FAU graduate George Zoley was also a former chair of the university's Board of Trustees, the group which would agree to the $6 million deal.

During the latest protest, Saunders pointed to Zoley's success as an FAU graduate for students who wondered what their job prospects would be once potential employers saw FAU on their resumes.

"This is our own graduate who has been successful," she said.

When asked what the university's exit strategy would be for this deal with GEO Group, Anthony Barbar, chair of the university's Board of Trustees, said "there is no exit." According to FAU's contract with GEO Group, the only way the naming rights cease is if GEO stops paying the bills.

The administration's unwillingness to budge has only strengthened the resolve of the "Stop Owlcatraz Coalition" members.

"We're continuing," Rory said.

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