The President’s Cabinet has denied the charter of a proposed student-led LGBT support group, but stated that they are open to other options.
Senior Athena Horton, along with a board made up of fellow students, submitted the application for the club, which they called Love of God Bringing Triumph, to the Student Government Association in January along with a formal proposal.
The proposal states: “The purpose of Love of God Bringing Triumph is neither to condone nor condemn LGBT orientation or behavior, rather it is to act as a space for acceptance, love, support, and community: to be God’s hands and feet.”
On Feb. 27, Horton was notified that she and her fellow students would meet with Dr. Vern Wesley, vice president for student development, and Keri Lewis, SGA adviser, rather than the entire Cabinet.
“The reason the Cabinet didn’t meet with the group is because it would have been outside our process,” Dr. Wesley wrote in an email.
He continued, “Just as last year with the Honor’s group wanting to become a club, there was some discussion at the Cabinet level, but we didn’t meet with the leaders of that group. It was best to keep this meeting at the SDO level with Keri and I.”
“They—as we all anticipated—told us a student-led group was not an appropriate venue for a group like the one we proposed, but were open to other options,” said Horton.
While this particular option was denied, Provost Dr. Timothy Wooster said that the Cabinet is committed to providing support systems for students.
“This was not a major issue for the Cabinet because we are committed to providing support systems for all of our students. As a result, the question was not one of providing support or not providing support, the question was is this the appropriate vehicle for the type of support proposed,” said Dr. Wooster.
The Cabinet responded to the proposal with a letter, which states, “The cabinet appreciates your desire to create a club that is responsive to the difficult issues that come when individuals struggle with both identity and sexuality. At the same time, we have significant concerns for the well-being of struggling students in the event of a breach in confidentiality or support.”
The President’s Cabinet does recognize that there are students on campus who are wrestling with questions of identity and sexuality, however.
“As you noted in your proposal, students across the country are struggling with issues of identity and sexuality. These struggles can be intense and difficult, even leading to self-harm,” the letter reads.
The letter concludes, “…however, we do not believe an SGA club is the best response at this time.”
Dr. Wooster echoed the Cabinet’s notion that an SGA club is not the best avenue for the support group.
“To formally sanction an SGA student club to engage on issues that may be difficult and are often confidential has the risk of being harmful to all of those involved,” he said.
[box type=”info” style=”rounded”]The club’s proposal outlines five objectives:
- To create a safe, non-judgmental, and confidential environment where students have the opportunity to dialogue about the difficulties of being, or having a loved one, in the LGBT community in the Christian church
- To reach members of the community that feel isolated and neglected, and display to them that they do not have to walk alone
- To initiate dialogue that allows for reconciliation to occur in our community
- To demonstrate to a marginalized group of people that they are deeply loved by both our community and our Triune God
- To direct all members to our Creator and ultimate Judge[/box]
“Being LGBT in society today is difficult enough with the stigmas associated with it, but being a part of a Christian community whose denominational stance is that ‘Homosexuality is one means by which human sexuality is perverted … and subject to the wrath of God’ (as stated in the Church of the Nazarene Manual ’09-’13) is [even more difficult],” said Horton.
She added, “I must admit that we are blessed to have a chaplain who wrestles with this and responds in Christ-like love, but unfortunately without the institution responding as a whole by making an attempt to reach out to the LGBT students on campus, we are letting students become ostracized.”
Chaplain Corey MacPherson addressed the issue in a chapel message titled “Homosexuality: What Does God Think?” during Nazarene Student Leadership Conference on April 13, 2012.
He began the message by saying, “If you are gay, bisexual, or questioning your sexual identity, there are two things I’d like to say at the outset … please know that you are loved, cared for, and highly valued by this community. We are thankful for you and that you are a part of this community. We recognize that we still have much to learn on how to best demonstrate and express our love for you, but please know it is our heart’s desire and prayer to love you as Christ loved the Church.”
He continued, “…Second, and most importantly, know that you are loved and deeply valued by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please never forget these two truths.”
Horton acknowledges that there is a large LGBT community on campus.
“There are a number of students on campus who are either certain of their sexuality (either [lesbian, gay, or bisexual]), are really struggling with it, and those that are just discovering it. I know of around 15 students that fit into at least one of those categories,” she said.
The group of students that proposed Love of God Bringing Triumph recognizes that the Cabinet raised some valid questions, but Horton wishes the Cabinet suggested alternate options.
“[The Cabinet] acknowledged that there was a need on campus and across the country to support individuals who are struggling with their sexuality and sexual identity (which is deeply appreciated), but because they were aware of the desire to have this group for a month and a half before choosing to respond with their decision … suggests to me … this is simply not something that is on their priority list,” said Horton.
Dr. Wooster explained that the Cabinet was waiting for supplemental material to the proposal, which is the reason the process didn’t occur quicker.
“Part of the timing of the response was that SDO was told they would be receiving supplemental materials to go along with the original proposal,” said Dr. Wooster.
He continued, “A decision could not be reached until after the supplemental material was received. The supplemental material was not submitted to SDO until Feb. 12, 2013.”
Although disappointed, Horton and the other students anticipated the result, and thus began working on another option before the Cabinet denied the group.
“Right now, we are starting a conversation with the Brickley Center to see if we can run a group out of their department,” said Horton.
“In theory, this will alleviate the concern of student leaders bearing all of the weight and responsibility, will help to further ensure that confidentiality is maintained, and will allow for people who are qualified to assist with things such as suicidal thoughts and behavior, self-injury, drug use, etc.” added Horton.
Even through Brickley, the group will need approval from the administration. Horton is not prepared to give up, even if “no” is the answer again.
“We are trying every avenue to make this group possible on ENC’s campus, and while I have chosen to take the lead on this, the battle will not end at my graduation in May until we know that we have exhausted all options,” she said.
Horton concluded, “This is not some political statement about whether homosexuality is right or wrong: This is about the lives of people in this community who may be struggling and hurting and feeling like there is no one to talk to, or that life is not worth living because no one will accept them for who they are. If we have it in our power to reach out and tell them that they are loved and valued by God and by the people around them, why don’t we do just that?”