During Seattle Pacific University’s graduation ceremony on Sunday, a number of students receiving their diploma in one hand while handing rainbow flags to the anti-LGBTQ school president. It was an extension of a peaceful protest that’s been going on for weeks in opposition to the school’s new policy effectively blocking the hiring of openly LGBTQ people.
All together, about 45 students gave SPU Interim President Pete Menjares a flag instead of (or in addition to) shaking his hand.
“A lot of us expressed that we didn’t really want to shake the president’s hand,” said SPU student Chloe Guillot. “So one of the ideas that came up is ‘what if we just handed him pride flags instead of extending our hand, and then we took our degrees?’“
“We just wanted to have a very visual display at graduation of how our community is still continuing to fight against these policies at SPU,” Guillot said. “Just because we’re graduating doesn’t mean we’re going to forget or stop fighting.”
In case you need a refresher, the private Christian school in Washington, recently decided to keep in place “lifestyle expectations” in their contracts that would prevent openly LGBTQ people from getting hired at all. It was a move that came a year after SPU refused to hire Jéaux Rinedahl as a full-time nursing professor solely because he was “not heterosexual.” A lawsuit Rinedahl filed was settled out of court.
SPU said its goal in keeping the bigot clause in its contract was to maintain an affiliation with the Free Methodist Church, which is anti-LGBTQ, even thought the religious denomination doesn’t give the school any money. The response was so weak that many students responded by staging a sit-in outside the school president’s office. They did that even as final exams approached, and they said they will keep doing it through July 1, at which point students may pursue legal action. While the private school has a right to hire whomever it wants, the argument here would likely be that the school’s trustees are not doing what’s in the best interest of the non-profit university, which could constitute a breach of fiduciary duty.
Whether or not that argument works, though, the storyline at the school for the past few weeks has been all about how students are rejecting faith-based bigotry while most of the adults in charge are defending it no matter who they hurt in the name of Jesus. The flag protest at graduation is just the latest iteration of it. It’s a reminder that even though these students attend a conservative Christian school, they don’t believe their faith justifies discrimination against LGBTQ people.
They may not have the power to set the rules, but they’re smart enough to know how to leverage media attention so the public sees that not all Christians are the same.