While state legislatures across the country are enacting a record number of bills that bar LGBTQ+ people from classroom discussions, sports teams, and more, some students are fighting back. Members of the graduating class at Seattle Pacific University spoke out at a Sunday commencement ceremony by handing the university’s interim president rainbow flags instead of shaking hands, in the latest gesture against the Christian university’s policies.
The students were protesting the university’s recent decision to uphold a rule that prohibits the hiring of LGBTQ+ staff members, as well as staff members who have engaged in premarital sex, according to CNN. Student organizer Chloe Guillot told CNN that the idea for the protest came from students not wanting to shake university president Pete Menjares’ hand. “So, we thought what can we do instead of that?” Guillot said. “And the idea came up: why don’t we hand out a pride flag?” After handing out her own pride flag, Guillot told Menjares, “We’re not going to stop until the policy changes.”
Video of the protest subsequently went viral on TikTok, where hundreds of thousands of people watched and shared the students’ action.
In response, Menjares told local news outlet and CNN affiliate KING5 that “It was a wonderful day to celebrate with our graduates. Those who took the time to give me a flag showed me how they felt and I respect their view.”
Students have been protesting the university’s decision since its board of trustees issued a statement on May 23. “While this decision brings complex and heart-felt reactions, the Board made a decision that it believed was most in line with the university’s mission and Statement of Faith and chose to have SPU remain in communion with its founding denomination, the Free Methodist Church USA, as a core part of its historical identity as a Christian university,” the statement reads. The university’s statement of faith, as with many other Christian universities’ statements of faith, espouses a belief that marriage and “sexual experience” are both intended for heterosexal couples.
According to the Associated Students of SPU Instagram account, students have staged a sit-in in front of the president’s office since May 24. As of yesterday, it was still ongoing, and students plan to continue sitting in until July 1, per CNN. Additionally, the organization is raising funds for legal fees to file a lawsuit against the university’s board of trustees for breach of fiduciary duty.
“At this point, groups within SPU have taken almost every measure they can to hold the Board accountable, with no success in changing SPU’s discriminatory policies,” the GoFundMe reads. “We believe that legal action is the best course of action moving forward and are actively compiling evidence that highlights the numerous ways the Board’s decision has harmed the school and its community. This is the only way we can try and have Board members in support of upholding discriminatory policies removed from their position without them resigning on their own.”
If the Board repeals the homophobic policy by July 1, the funds will instead be donated to SPU. As of Friday, the GoFundMe has raised $33,020 of its $75,000 goal.
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