Education

Christian university students protest for 200 hours and counting over ‘homophobic’ LGBTQ+ staff ban

Lily Wakefield June 2, 2022
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SPU students at the sit-in outside the university president's office

SPU students have been sitting outside the university president's office for eight days straight. (Chloe Guillot)

Students at the Christian Seattle Pacific University (SPU) in Washington have been staging a sit-in protest for nine days and counting over a ban on LGBTQ+ staff.

On 23 May, SPU’s board of trustees voted to uphold a policy on “employee lifestyle expectations” which prohibit “sexual behaviour that is inconsistent with the university’s understanding of Biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity, and same-sex sexual activity”.

An LGBTQ+ work group made up of students, faculty and board members had recommended that the policy be removed after months of research – however, this was ignored by the university, which is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church USA.

The day after the vote, students and staff held a walk-out and protest before commencing a sit-in outside the university president’s office, demanding the resignation of all board members who voted to keep the ban in place.

The sit-in has now been ongoing 24 hours a day for nine days straight.

 

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A post shared by SPU is Gay (@engaygetheculture)

Chloe Guillot, a non-binary SPU senior, the student government’s vice president of ministries and one of the organisers of the sit-in, told PinkNews: “Our ultimate goal is to get the employment policy removed.

“But something that we’ve just come to accept based on listening to the board of trustees talk, is that we’re not going to be able to change their minds.

“To them, this is a culture war. To them, somebody is threatening their faith or their Christianity. Even though we are also coming at it from a [Christian] perspective, that we want to truly be a Christian university that loves and accepts everybody.

“So it’s going to be difficult to change their minds, snd they’ve already proven year after year that they’re unwilling to truly listen to us. We believe that really the only way forward is just for them to step away, and to let go of like the power that they’re trying to hold onto over the university.”

SPU students are fighting against an anti-LGBTQ+ board of trustees with no accountability

The students are up against a formidable adversary – SPU’s board of trustees is made up of wealthy individuals who are a force unto themselves, able to control university policies.

Three members of the 15-strong board have already resigned over the vote, including the former chair who was on the side of the students.

However the only way members are appointed is by other members of the board, and the only way they can be removed is by a board majority vote.

“They have the power to appoint themselves,” said Guillot.

“Technically, our president is supposed to be the go-between between the university and the board, but our president resigned last year.

“Now we have an interim president who was appointed from the board… The only people that can hold the board accountable are the board.”

The Free Methodist Church has threatened to withdraw affiliation if SPU’s employee lifestyle expectations are altered.

But the many challenges student protesters are facing have not put them off, and Guillot said the sit-in is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

“We’ve been doing shifts, because we’re all still students, we have to go to classes and go to work, and we want to make sure that it’s been a sustainable sit-in,” they explained.

Students use a form to sign up for two to three hour shifts, meaning that between 40 and 50 students are at the sit-in at all hours of the day. So far the protest has run for over 216 hours.

Students sleep outside the SPU president’s office. (Chloe Guillot)

“We were also approaching from a legal perspective, trying to get the attorney general of Washington to bring a lawsuit against the board, because we believe that they’ve breached their duty to our campus,” said Guillot.

Students are especially frustrated as the decision to keep the anti-LGBTQ+ policy feels inconsistent with other elements of university life at SPU.

There are no policies against LGBTQ+ students, and Guillot, a theology major, said they have “never taken a theology class at SPU that has taught me anything other than to be affirming of LGBTQ+ individuals”.

“It feels like we’re not dealing with logic,” they said.

“Because if the board was logical, like they would see how detrimental the policy is.

“It is homophobic, that is absolutely true and I wish that they could see that. But it is so hard to get them to see that because they’re so steeped in their own bias and belief.

“So it’s almost like, if you can’t accept your own homophobia, then at least accept that this policy is hurting our community and hurting our campus.”

The anti-LGBTQ+ policy has ‘brought out the absolute worst in our institution, but the absolute best in our community’, students say

Despite the reason behind it, the experience of being at the sit-in has been a joyful one for students, with karaoke nights, a talent show and comedy powerpoint presentations.

 

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A post shared by SPU is Gay (@engaygetheculture)

Staff and even members of the local community have been bringing food to protesters, professors have been conducting classes and office hours at the sit-in, and one teacher even came to read them bedtime stories.

“It’s probably been one of the most community-oriented spaces I’ve ever felt at SPU,” said Guillot.

“We have never felt more love and support than in that space… It sucks that it had to take this to get there, that it had to take this huge, traumatic event to bring us together.

“The situation is brought out the absolute worst in our institution, but the absolute best in our community and in our campus.

“We’ve really come together and that’s what SPU stands for… We do not believe in homophobia, we do not think that has a place on our campus, and so we’re going to show up and support each other until it changes.”

PinkNews has approached Seattle Pacific University for comment.

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