'We decided to give him a pride flag as a symbol that we aren't going anywhere and we aren't going to stop fighting until this policy is changed.'
Dozens of students at Seattle Pacific University (SPU) took the occasion of their graduation to send a powerful message to the school regarding its anti-LGBTQ+ policies. The students, who have been protesting the university's discriminatory employment policy for several weeks now, took things up a notch during graduation by handing small rainbow flags, notes and other pride items to Interim President Pete Menjares while accepting their diplomas from him. According to The Hill, SPU's "Employee Lifestyle Expectations" policy requires full-time staff to "reflect a traditional view on Biblical marriage and sexuality," including barring them from being involved in "same-sex sexual activity."
The protest, which also saw some students abstaining from shaking Menjares' hand, was organized by the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific (ASSP) as part of an ongoing movement against the policies. "The graduation demonstration was part of an ongoing series of actions that are being taken to protest the school's anti-LGBTQ+ employment policies," explained Chloe Guillot, a graduating student who has helped organize previous protests. Speaking to The Seattle Times, recent SPU graduate Laur Lugos—who was SPU student government president—shared that "so much of [their] college experience has been engulfed by this issue."
"It just felt like this was the appropriate way to go out," they added. Lugos, who is helping organize the ongoing sit-in taking place in the campus administration building, which has lasted more than 20 days so far, revealed that she handed Menjares a handwritten letter during Sunday's commencement ceremony. In the letter, she said she urged him to resign and expressed her dislike of "Christian niceness," which she described as superficial kindness when Christians are actively participating in discrimination. The note reportedly further detailed how Lugos learned a lot at SPU, most importantly how to care for the people that Christians "lock out."
According to Lugos, she also promised in the letter to do what they can to "disrupt and dismantle" ideologies and institutional powers that keep people out and away from "the love of Christ." A video of the graduation ceremony, which included a montage of the students handing the flags to Menjares, is now going viral on social media with many praising the graduates for fearlessly standing up for what's right. "These younger generations did NOT come to play," commented one TikTok user while another wrote: "Symbolism with action to back it up. Y'all are doing the damn thing!!"
Addressing the students' protest in a statement to the press, Menjares said: "It was a wonderful day to celebrate with our graduates. Those who took the time to give me a flag showed me how they felt and I respect their view." Students, faculty and alumni plan to continue their efforts to get trustees to reverse their decision to uphold the "Employee Lifestyle Expectations" policy, which requires SPU employees to make "behavioral and lifestyles choices consistent with moral integrity, social consciousness and effective Christian witness." According to Lugos, Tuesday will mark 500 hours of organized sit-ins although outrage and protest against the policy have been ongoing for several years.
"Many of us have been participating in a sit-in outside the president's office for 3 weeks, and we didn't want to shake the president's hand because of the harm he has done to this campus alongside the other board of trustees members," Guillot said. "So instead of shaking his hand, we decided to give him a pride flag as a symbol that we aren't going anywhere and we aren't going to stop fighting until this policy is changed." According to Advocate, an adjunct nursing professor sued the university last year alleging he was denied a promotion because he's gay. Although the case was settled out of court, a work group was then created to make the SPU campus more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people.