Christian Colleges Target LGBTQ+ Communities With New Policies

Even as support and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people and issues continue to grow on college campuses, a cadre of religious schools are instituting policies that run counter to this progress.
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  • Seattle Pacific University will enforce a policy dictating the personal lives of employees.
  • Tennessee's Lee University wants students to identify as their gender assigned at birth.
  • Title IX religious exemptions allow religious colleges to discriminate openly, Campus Pride says.

It was a less-than-ideal start to Pride Month at a handful of religious universities across the U.S.

Some Christian and Baptist universities implemented or proposed new policies in recent weeks aimed at limiting sexual orientation and/or gender identity expression among students and faculty. The moves have prompted protests from students and support from LGBTQ+ advocacy groups also in opposition to these policies.

These changes come after years of progress toward inclusivity at religious universities in this realm.

According to the Washington Blade, an LGBTQ+ newspaper, a recent analysis found that Christian colleges and universities are now less likely to ban "homosexual behavior" in their student handbooks compared to a decade ago. Additionally, the analysis of school policies found that over half of these institutions now include nondiscrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation.

Still, some universities have recently adopted policy changes that run counter to that progress. A representative from Campus Pride told BestColleges that this, however, is nothing new.

"We have been tracking this for over six years now," they said. "I think these religious college discrimination issues are getting more visibility, but Title IX religious exemptions that allow these colleges to discriminate openly are not a new thing."

Title IX bars universities from discriminating on the basis of sex and sexuality. However, religious institutions can apply for a religious exemption to skirt some of these rules on the basis that enforcing them "conflicts with religious tenets," according to the Department of Education.

President Joe Biden's administration is expected to release a revision of Title IX rules that would extend protections from discrimination for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Campus Pride's 2021 "Worst List," a list of the "worst, most unsafe" campuses for LGBTQ+ students, expanded to include 180 colleges and universities — 50 more than the 2020 edition. It was the largest single-year expansion since Campus Pride began publishing its "Worst List" in 2015.

Here are some schools accused of enforcing or proposing anti-LGBTQ+ policies.

Seattle Pacific University Bans Hiring of LGBTQ+ Staff

The news out of Seattle Pacific University (SPU) isn't a policy change so much as it is keeping with the school's long-standing tradition. It has sparked outrage, especially among students, nonetheless, after officials chose to renew it.

The Christian university's board of trustees announced in late May that it decided to retain its lifestyle expectations guide for employees that effectively bans the hiring of LGBTQ+ staff and faculty.

Employees are "expected to refrain from sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the university's understanding of Biblical standards," the university stated in a separate FAQ alongside the announcement. These expectations include avoiding cohabitation before marriage, engaging in extramarital sexual activity, and any same-sex sexual activity.

"While this decision brings complex and heart-felt reactions, the board made a decision that it believed was most in line with the university's mission and Statement of Faith and chose to have SPU remain in communion with its founding denomination, the Free Methodist Church USA, as a core part of its historical identity as a Christian university," SPU Board of Trustees Chair Cedric Davis said in a statement.

SPU students quickly took to protesting the decision. NPR reported that some students walked out of class to protest outside the university president's office after the announcement.

"No matter what you believe, getting rid of these policies is the best way to make sure that our campus is an inclusive place for all people to be," AJ Larsen, a 2020 graduate and member of SPU's alumni coalition, told NPR. "Not only in the student body but in the faculty, staff, and administration."

Lee University Limits Gender Expression

Lee University hasn't yet released its policy, but early reported drafts of such policy would place tight restrictions on students.

According to The Associated Press (AP), the Tennessee university's policy draft presented to faculty includes a restriction that states "no member of the Lee University community may publicly identify or behave as a gender that does not correspond to his or her biological sex."

The draft goes on to limit how students may talk about their sexuality.

"No member of the Lee University community may promote or advocate, in person, in writing, or online, for sexual acts, behaviors or lifestyles that are contrary to Scripture, this statement of belief, or any other university policy," it says, according to AP.

Affirming Alum Collective, an alumni group for former Lee University students, quickly came out in opposition to these proposed rules.

"Let us be abundantly clear — the policies outlined in the document pose a direct and imminent risk to student mental health and wellbeing on Lee University's campus," the group said in a statement. "Though these policies will undoubtedly have a profoundly negative impact on the mental health of students, the university continues to push forward regardless, with no regard to the damage that this will do."

A Lee University spokesperson told a local ABC affiliate that the university plans to publish its final draft on Aug. 1.

Same-Sex Spouses Denied Benefits at Baylor University

In Waco, Texas, recent progress in LGBTQ+ equality at Baylor Univeristy remains overshadowed by its policies toward LGBTQ+ faculty and employees with same-sex partners.

Baylor in April granted its first charter to a LGBTQ+-focused student group, according to the Baylor Lariat, the university's student newspaper. The mission of PRISM is to extend care and community to LGBTQ students, to represent their interests with the university administration, and to pay for events or guest speakers using student activity funds.

However, Baylor's long-standing Statement on Human Sexuality still explicitly discourages students from engaging in "advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching."

Likewise, the Baylor Lariat reports that the university's healthcare policy is exclusionary for LGBTQ+ employees. It states that only spouses of the opposite sex count as an eligible spouse who can be added as a dependent. A gay employee at the university told the Baylor Lariat that such a policy should have no place at a Christian university.

"I am concerned that LGBTQ students are going to look at that and go, 'Nothing has changed,'" the source told the Baylor Lariat.