Conservative Christian colleges, once relatively insulated from the culture war, are increasingly entangled in the same battles over LGBT rights and related social issues that have divided other institutions in America.
Students and faculty at many religious institutions are asked to accept a “faith statement” outlining the school’s views on such matters as evangelical doctrine, scriptural interpretation, and human sexuality. Those statements often include a rejection of homosexual activity and a definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Changing attitudes on sexual ethics and civil rights, however, are making it difficult for some schools, even conservative ones, to ensure broad compliance with their strict positions.
“Millennials are looking at the issue of gay marriage, and more and more they are saying, ‘OK, we know the Bible talks about this, but we just don’t see this as an essential of the faith,” says Brad Harper, a professor of theology and religious history at Multnomah University, an evangelical Christian institution in Portland, Ore.
Yesterday, myself and four other LGBTQ Activists from GLSEN had the honor of sitting down with US Secretary of Education, Dr. John King, in his second to last day in office. Amid a changing administration, the Secretary offered his words of advice, and listened to our experiences as LGBTQ students as well as our hopes for inclusivity in the future of education. I think all of us, both visitors from GLSEN and the staff at the Department of Education, can agree that we all walked away with valuable information, useful connections, and an even stronger motivation to fight for student’s rights in schools.
Much of our conversation with the Secretary consisted of talking about our experiences in schools and how the federal government can further support LGBTQ students. We discussed issues like discriminatory bathroom policies, discrimination and bullying in schools, LGBTQ inclusive curriculum, and mutual respect among teachers, administrators, and our peers. As students, we proposed new ideas to help make schools more inclusive: e.g. class rosters with student’s preferred names and pronouns, accessible gender neutral bathrooms, and school bullying policies that specifically mention LGBTQ identities. We also talked about various steps the Department of Education has taken in the last few years; how they have improved school climates, and ways that there’s still room for growth.