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NWC benefits requested for same-sex partners

A Northwest College faculty member has asked the college to consider offering health insurance benefits to same-sex partners.

Rachel Hanan, an assistant professor of English at Northwest, made the request during a meeting of the President’s Advisory Council last week. She noted that the University of Wyoming now provides benefits to same-sex and domestic partners, and she provided a copy of the UW policy.

Hanan said she wants the council — and college community in general — to consider the request as a business and equal-rights issue rather than a moral one.

“Clearly, a business should offer benefits to its employees,” she said during an interview Friday. “Offering benefits to same-sex partners doesn’t make a moral statement about the lifestyle.”

The UW policy states that, to qualify for health insurance benefits, partners must meet several criteria, such as cohabitation, shared assets — including buying a house or a car jointly — and being responsible for one another’s welfare. “Essentially outlining the things that heterosexual couples usually do,” Hanan said.

“It recognizes the real commitments that people have in their lives. I can’t get married, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less committed to my partner ... I would like to be able to provide for my family like other people want to provide for their families.”

Hanan said she made the request for herself and on behalf of others.

“The question is, ‘Is my sexual orientation relevant?’ You don’t have to be gay to care about it, just like you don’t have to be black to care about racism,” she said.

NWC President Paul Prestwich said President’s Advisory Council members “are in the process of analyzing the financial, legal and political implications for such a change in the way the college provides benefits.

“We’re simply now in the information-gathering mode. As such, we don’t have an anticipated timeline, although a change this significant — if it were a direction we wanted to go — is not something that happens quickly.”

Other people — such as finance office employees and the human resources specialist — will be involved in the council’s analysis of the matter, Prestwich said.

Prestwich said the college offers standard health, vision, dental and retirement benefits as defined by the state of Wyoming.

“It’s a generous package of benefits, especially when compared to many benefits packages in the private sector. We’re fortunate that the state picks up a large portion of the costs associated with those benefits.”

While the state pays benefits for married spouses, the college would have to foot the bill for benefits for same-sex or domestic partners, he said.

This is Hanan’s first year at Northwest. Prior to that, she taught at the University of Oregon, which offers health insurance benefits to same-sex partners.

Hanan said she has received positive reactions to her request.

“A gentleman said he was probably the most conservative professor I’ll meet, but he thinks it’s a fantastic idea,” she said.

Hanan said she hadn’t brought up her sexual orientation in her classes and hadn’t discussed it with her students. Once her request was made public, “I expected a strong reaction to that, but I have seen zero strong reaction ... I’ve never seen a single one bat an eye.”

Hanan said she has found Powell welcoming and accepting.

“People will come up and introduce themselves,” she said. “I have pink hair, and there’s not a lot of people around here who have pink hair. But people seem interested and friendly. (Powell) seems like a place where people care about the community and want to be involved in the community and take care of each other.”

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2 comments

  • posted by Kit

    July 14, 2012 7:24 pm

    hats off to Ms. Hanan for trying to drag Wyoming into the 21st century, and reminding us that that Wyoming touts being the "equality state." Is she planning on running for office, because she would have my vote.

  • posted by Molly Toups

    February 27, 2012 7:07 pm

    Well said!!!

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