Students at Seattle Pacific University have been staging a sit-in outside the president's office for 19 days in protest of its anti-LGBTQ+ employment policy and have carried their protest to the school's graduation ceremony as well.
Trustees at SPU, which is affiliated with the conservative Free Methodist Church -- separate from the United Methodist Church -- last month affirmed the school's "Employee Lifestyle Expectations" policy, which "prohibits full-time staff from participating in 'same-sex sexual activity,' among other things," the Seattle Times reports.
Jeaux Rinedahl, an adjunct nursing professor, sued SPU in 2021, saying it denied him a tenured position because he's gay. The case has been settled out of court, but the fight over anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination predated his lawsuit and is continuing.
SPU's Faculty Senate gave the trustees a "no confidence" vote last year, and this year a working group recommended that the trustees rescind the policy. But Free Methodist officials warned that SPU would lose its affiliation with the denomination if it dropped the policy, even though the church doesn't have ownership or direct control over the school and its property, the Times notes. The trustees released a statement saying, "SPU's employee conduct expectations continue to reflect a traditional view on Biblical marriage and sexuality."
Laur Lugos, student government president at the university, has been helping to organize the sit-in. "Students have organized it and have been the ones putting it together, but the entire community is backing this and supporting this," Lugos told the Times. Several faculty members have taken shifts, and hundreds of people -- students, alumni, faculty, and staff -- have participated overall.
Some students protested at the SPU graduation ceremony, held Sunday, by handing rainbow flags to President Pete Menjares as they received their diplomas from him -- an action that was captured on a TikTok video.
We’ve also been sleeping outside his office for 19 days in a gay sit-in but he usually doesn’t say hi to us. #pride #pridemonth #lgbtq #gay #graduation #fyp #seattle #changethepolicy #hiregayprofs
Lugos said the sit-in will continue after graduation. "We are a generation that believes really strongly in a cause," she told TV station KIRO. "And so we are learning how to make that happen as we go. It does not end when campus shuts down. We have students who are still here who are going to continue this fight for us."
The protesters hope the trustees will resign, she told another station, KCPQ, and are considering a lawsuit. "It's apparent that the people who are homophobic are not showing up to these conversations," she said.