As Jordan Kolb wrote in “Goshen College, EMU Change Hiring Policies” on page 1-2, Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) both changed their hiring policies regarding LGBT faculty. Over the summer, both Mennonite schools announced their additions of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to their non-discrimination policies—a motion contrary to their Mennonite denomination’s beliefs. While sexual orientation and gender were added to the non-discrimination policies, what these changes mean for transgender students in particular is unclear. Nonetheless, it is a very respectable thing when people and communities take tangible steps to support and defend the oppressed in their communities, even in the face of denominational or political difference. I wish I could say this about the Eastern community.
After signing an anti-LGBT letter that was sent to Obama in the summer of 2014, Dr. Duffett insisted that “Eastern University will not discriminate against students or employees based on sexual orientation.” But no handbook policy stating this has ever existed. Also conspicuously absent is any mention of transgender people (the ‘T’ in LGBT) in all of Duffett’s statements and in any formal EU policy. Jodi Beyeler, Director of Communications at Goshen College, stated that “If we become aware of transgender students wanting to live on campus, we determine the best housing situation for them on a case-by-case basis, in conversation with the individual students. We strive to meet student needs while honoring understandings of life in a community.” EMU representatives did not respond in time for publication, but their handbook was just as ambiguous as Goshen’s regarding transgender students. While this ambiguity isn’t exactly a condemnation, it is very concerning to me, especially given my own experiences of discrimination at Eastern.
Nonetheless, the hiring decision of Goshen and EMU gives me hope for the future of Christianity. It gives me hope that I and so many other LGBT people might not be ostracized, abused, and otherwise violated by Christians who think “disagreeing in love” is a viable substitute to living a loving and just life. I am baffled that people laud Eastern for its alleged commitment to justice when LGBT people are routinely singled out by EU hiring and housing practices. As someone who has repeatedly been ostracized by churches and Christians, the housing and hiring policies and practices at Eastern as they stand right now do not give me the same hope that Goshen’s and EMU’s do.
What do you say to a person when they tell you “that thing you’re doing to me makes me want to not live anymore”? At Eastern the response is, “we have to be mindful of those who disagree with your fundamental existence. You should consider compromising, and we’ll figure something out so we can keep doing that but have you not complain about it.” EMU and Goshen seem like they might respond in a more substantially loving manner. While not all LGBT people are suicidal, Eastern’s sort of pseudo-accepting rejection contributes to the fact that, according to the Family Acceptance Project, “LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection,” and the fact that, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, transgender people are more than 40 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
In other words, Eastern University is complicit in the socio-cultural suffocation of LGBT people, and this institution would do well to learn from Goshen College and EMU. Goshen’s and EMU’s commitments to justice are manifestations of the heart of God, albeit not without more room to improve. Of course, our communities would be nothing without the tenacity, love, and commitment of their own LGBT members. I pray for the day I can include Eastern among a small list of communities where people like me can be safe and healthy. Today is not one of those days.
Family Acceptance Project
Injustice at Every Turn