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Christian uni students turn graduation into epic protest against LGBTQ+ staff ban

Amelia Hansford June 16, 2022
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Seattle Pacific University students hand pride flags at their graduation ceremony (Image: Engaygetheculture, Instagram

University students turned their graduation ceremony into a defiant protest against an anti-LGBTQ+ administration.

Students at Seattle Pacific University (SPU) have been taking direct action against a ban on LGBTQ+ staff since the university’s board of trustees voted to uphold the poloicy on 23 May.

This has included an ongoing, 24-hour-a-day sit-in which began in May.

On Sunday (12 June), the Christian university held a commencement ceremony for graduating seniors. Alumni reportedly returned to campus to take shifts for the sit-in so that students could make the most of their graduation – which they certainly did.

A viral video shared to TikTok shows students walking on stage to collect their diplomas, and instead of shaking interim president Pete Menjares’ hand, each handing him an LGBTQ+ Pride flag.

The video is captioned: “POV: the president of your university thinks being LGBTQ+ is a ‘lifestyle choice’ and a ‘morality issue’ so you decide to give him a gift at graduation.”

Menjares was gifted 14 colourful Pride flags in the clip, which has over 646,000 likes and 10,300 shares, though it’s uncertain how many he kept to decorate his office with.

@engaygetheculture

We’ve also been sleeping outside his office for 19 days in a gay sit-in but he usually doesn’t say hi to us. #pride #pridemonth #lgbtq #gay #graduation #fyp #seattle #changethepolicy #hiregayprofs

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Seattle Pacific University student and organiser Chloe Guillot said that around 50 students were given Pride flags ahead of the ceremony.

“It started just as a conversation among students that we didn’t really want to shake the president’s hand at graduation,” Guillot told CNN. “So, we thought what can we do instead of that? And the idea came up: why don’t we hand out a Pride flag?”

Guillot plans to return to SPU as a graduate student. She said that after handing Menjares her Pride flag, she told him: “We’re not going to stop until the policy changes.”

The university has come under fire from both students and allies after it voted to uphold a rule that faculty and staff must “reflect a traditional view on biblical marriage and sexuality, as an expression of long-held church teaching and biblical interpretation”.

Employees are also expected to “uphold certain standards of behaviour” and to “contribute to the welfare of the group in specific ways.”

Part of this contribution is the prevention of “sexual behaviour that is inconsistent with the university’s understanding of biblical standards.”

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.

Protesters are demanding that the policy be scrapped and that the SPU board of trustees “reveal how each trustee voted” towards the policy’s renews.

They also want trustees “who voted to remove the policy” to condemn their colleagues publicly, and are demanding the resignation of those who voted in favour of the LGBTQ+ staff ban, including Matthew Whitehead and Mark Mason, who abstained.

Protestors are crowdfunding to file a lawsuit against the board of trustees for breach of fiduciary duty – meaning they have not acted in the best interests of the organisation..

According to their GoFundMe page, funds raised will be donated to SPU if the board repeals the policy by 1 July. So far, the page has raised over $32,000.

Using the handle @EngaygeTheCulture, the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific (ASSP) have been documenting protests, posting over 64 Instagram posts and 20 TikTok videos and counting.

One video sees Menjares speaking to students during the sit-in, saying that due to its position as a Christian university, SPU’s moral standards must be “reflective of the church.”

A voice-over replies to that, saying: “I think I’d rather you just call me a slur.”

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