The recent LGBT+ Solidarity Week hosted by Refuge and Political Activism Club (PAC) March 13-17 was a huge success. The events were better attended than anyone had anticipated, and especially at the Solidarity Stand on Friday, the love and support poured out by Eastern’s community was tangible. The increased visibility and affirmation of the LGBT+ community at Eastern had a significant impact on how safe and accepted students felt; at least eight people came out of the closet in some way during Solidarity Week and the weeks leading up to it. Although it is too soon to tell how the Board will vote on the Human Sexuality Task Force’s recommendations or how Eastern will address Refuge’s club status and sensitivity training for faculty, there are lots of reasons to be optimistic, and there are several avenues that members of Refuge and others are continuing to pursue to further these causes.
The hashtags for the week were #StandInSolidarityEU and #LetThemTeach. Both of these were displayed over a rainbow background on the rock between Walton and Doane. #StandInSolidarityEU speaks to the growing number of students and faculty in Eastern’s community who stand with LGBT+ individuals as allies and advocates. #LetThemTeach refers to one of the motions put forward by the Task Force that was also one of the five objectives Solidarity Week was advocating for. The motion calls for removing the specific examples of “moral turpitude” that are listed in the Faculty Handbook as grounds for termination, one of which is “homosexual conduct,” in favor of a legal definition such as “conduct that gravely violates the shared moral standards of the community.” This might sound like an inconsequential technicality, but in reality, making this change would make it so that faculty at Eastern could be “out” without being afraid of losing their job: hence, #LetThemTeach.
Making this change is important for several reasons. First, this is a social justice issue. It might not be illegal to discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation, but that doesn’t change the negative impact Eastern’s current policy has on a marginalized group of people that have been specifically hurt by the Church. Second, LGBT+ students at Eastern need faculty who understand their experience. Faculty members at Eastern do so much more than teach content in their respective fields. They are mentors, advocates and role models for students, and they share with us their wealth of experience and insight on faith, God and living in the Church. It is difficult to be LGBT+ in the Christian community, and it’s difficult to be Christian in the LGBT+ community, yet that is the lived experience of so many students at Eastern. It would be amazing for students at Eastern to have openly LGBT+ faculty to talk with and learn from. Within Refuge, there is a sort of informal knowledge base of which professors and administrators are affirming, but that is not the same. Third, because Eastern is open to LGBT+ students, but not LGBT+ faculty, students are in an uncomfortable limbo. On one hand, LGBT+ students at Eastern don’t have to worry that they will be kicked out of school, which is something that happens at many Christian universities. However, after graduating from Eastern, LGBT+ students would not be able to return here as professors if things remain as they are now. Eastern is cultivating talented professionals in a wide variety of fields but won’t allow those same people to give back to the next generation of Eastern students as faculty.
One of the most common misconceptions/ misunderstandings about the goals of Solidarity Week is that it was about the theological debate over gay marriage. That is an important discussion that Eastern continues to grapple with, but that was not the point of Solidarity Week. None of the five things we are advocating for asks anyone to change their theological stance or adopt a specific belief. The changes to the Handbook recommended by the Task Force call for Eastern to take a neutral stance and to let the official literature of the school reflect the theological diversity that already exists at Eastern. It’s time for Eastern to stop treating the members of our community who happen to be LGBT+ as second-class children of God.