LGBT community holds sit in during chapel
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Last Wednesday, members and supporters of Westmont’s LGBTQ community gathered on the lawn outside the gym during chapel, protesting what they claimed were “serious injustices” committed toward LGBTQ students on campus.
The sit-in was peaceful and the result of collaborative efforts of students and a handful of faculty members. Participants held signs painted with words like “#excluded,” “#unsafe,” “#shamed,” and “#silenced,” using hashtags to promote discussion on social media. They also sang worship songs, played music, and read Bible verses.
The goal of the roughly 40-person demonstration, said one participant, was to promote dialogue between the Westmont students and administration in a respectful manner and create a space for the voices of Westmont’s LGBTQ community. The protest reflects longstanding disagreements within the larger Westmont community surrounding the school’s current policies, namely those in the Community Life Statement.
In a letter addressed to students of the 2015-2016 academic year, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Edee Schulze described the Community Life Statement as “foundational” and reflective of students’ responsibility and privilege. “Full-hearted engagement with this community is no small task but is so rewarding when done well,” Schulze’s letter states. “I encourage you to . . . actively contribute to making Westmont a place that truly reflects our commitment to living and loving as Christ would.”
According to the Community Life Statement, Westmont “does not condone practices that Scripture forbids . . . [including] homosexual practices.” Yet some protesters argue that the policy is vague about what constitutes “homosexual practices” and about what is acceptable. Such critics also point out what might be considered inconsistencies in Westmont’s policies: the Student Handbook begins with Jesus’s commands to “Love one another as I have loved you” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Directly following the section on homosexuality, the Handbook says, “Diversity matters at Westmont.”
Wednesday’s demonstration, say the protesters, was aimed at peacefully challenging the school’s policies. The result of several weeks of careful planning in collaboration with local LGBTQ groups, the protest was organized via Facebook. According to event organizers, the group submitted an intent-to-protest form to Westmont 24 hours in advance. They also kept to the grass outside Murchison Gym, an area in which students are allowed to petition.
“We want this campus to be safe and loving to all people, not just some,” said one protester. “Jesus modeled care, love, and acceptance towards marginalized members of the community, and as Christians, I believe we ought to do the same.”
The sit-in coincided with a campus visit from regional accreditors, who visit Westmont regularly to update the school’s accreditation. Protesters said they wanted the accreditors to notice the demonstration so that it might promote discussion within the administration as well as accrediting bodies. They emphasized that the timing of the sit-in was not a direct attack on the administration but said that they felt as if their concerns had been repeatedly ignored and that action had to be taken.
In 2011, Westmont experienced similar controversy when The Horizon received a letter from 31 gay and lesbian attendees of Westmont—students and alumni—who described the “doubt, loneliness, and fear” they reportedly experienced while attending. More than 100 alumni reached out to the letter’s authors, and over 50 Westmont professors signed an open letter apologizing for any hurt the school might have inflicted. “We ask for your forgiveness,” the response letter read, “and we share your hope for richer, more gracious dialogue on [these] issues.”
Five years later, Westmont’s relevant policies have not changed. Although those participating in the sit-in acknowledged that progress was not likely to happen overnight, they said they were frustrated that the school seemed to place issues of sexual orientation on the back burner. And while the demonstration was successful in its goal to temporarily provide a peaceful, compassionate space for LGBTQ students, protesters say that long-term, it’s nowhere near adequate.
“This is an ongoing movement,” said one sit-in organizer. “We just need to be patient and persistent, whether that means organizing more sit-ins, writing letters of petition, or getting support from other LGBTQ allies in the community.”
As the Westmont community continues to work toward reconciliation, it remains to be seen whether or not college policies will change. But Wednesday’s sit-in will no doubt echo through the community. It will likely produce a range of responses to both recent activism and current policy. Regardless of the content and impact, though, there will be dialogue.
Photo by Wendy Waldrop
Deborah St Julien | Bravo to these brave students. In 1975-76, we were fighting for Westmont to hire women faculty members and raising issues around patriarchy and sexism. Many people descended,Bibles in hand ~ about 2 years ago.
Deborah St Julien | Telling us that women could not teach or preach, that scripture prohibited this. Now decades later these ideas have appropriately died, and the Body of Christ has benefited. Who knows how long it will take the very human, very broken church to get it about God's complete embrace of all people regardless of gender identity and sexual preference. You are doing God's work. Don't give up. ~ about 2 years ago.