LGBTQ civil rights and the Christian university

by Jordan Coleman | Staff Writer

Several cases regarding both the LGBTQ and the conservative faith communities have recently been brought before the federal Supreme Court. As a Christian university, Whitworth faces similar questions and conversations about what is to be expected and represented within the many different organizations on campus.

On Monday Sept. 18, the political science department hosted a Constitution Day celebration by discussing the tension between the LGBTQ community’s civil rights and the religious freedom rights of the conservative faith community.

“Some of us have been discriminated against about differences,” political science professor Kathryn Lee said. “Some differences are obvious. Some of us are different in ways that aren’t obvious. Unless we choose to tell you our differences, you may not know our story.”

The current issue that stands before the Supreme Court refers to cases revolving around the right to refuse service to customers based on their religious beliefs. Specifically, these cases involve a baker and a florist who were both unwilling to provide their services in gay marriages. The Supreme Court is evaluating both cases to determine whether these actions of denying service broke any laws or statutes stated within the Constitution.

The event, hosted by political science professor Julia Stronks, was attended by many students who were interested in the controversies that she mentioned and discussed.

“Initially, I try to avoid conversations like that because there’s so much controversy and conflict, but I think that’s why I found it interesting because there was an element of surprise in the conversation,” sophomore Emmanuelle Nocas said. “She kept it very neutral and supplied answers for both sides of LGBTQ and conservative.”

Some students who attended the discussion were attracted to learn about the way laws are established in the United States versus other countries around the world.

“I went because I think it’s a really interesting topic and because I wanted to see what the difference was between the laws here and back home in Paraguay for protecting the LGBTQ community,” sophomore Roland Báez said. “Also, back home in Paraguay the state and the church aren’t separated, they are together. It’s interesting how here you separate them and make your laws according to human rights, whereas back home the…laws are based on Catholicism.”

The gathering was an informational event regarding the laws of the Constitution, yet opinions were shared regarding the value of the discussions and what they believed it accomplished for the Pirate community.

“I think what will be accomplished is information, knowledge and understanding because looking around the room, I saw people in my LGBTQ community along with people of more conservative groups from Students for Life and the Young Americans for Freedom,” senior Hillary Le said. “I respect that because they are at least listening and getting informed from a credible source.”

Other students said they think the event was a way for individuals to be more aware and welcoming of the community as a whole.

“I feel like it will bring more awareness to people especially because we are a Christian university and because it is hard for people to show who they really are because they are scared of being judged,” Báez said. “People judge them because they are not educated. The point of these events are to educate people on the LGBTQ community.”

Stronks provided suggestions for how the community should approach the tense situation between the LGBTQ civil rights and the religious freedoms of the conservative faith community.

“I think the most important thing is that no matter what your perspective is, you share your ideas and you listen to others and that you do it as genuinely and calmly as possible,” she said. “I did not know that I knew any gay people until I was 23 and I did not ever talk to a transgender person until I was 50, and that’s unfortunate.”

Some students voiced their appraisals of Stronks and the influence she brings on campus.

“Julia has a useful way of making others feel validated and welcomed,” senior Peter Schoening said. “It’s great when professors can validate students.”

Along with the compliments on the previous event, there are also high expectations from students within the LGBTQ community for the level of community that Whitworth demonstrates now and in the future.

“Finishing up this year as senior, I hope that when I leave this place, a freshman LGBTQ person will feel safer coming out than I did,” Le said. “People like Julia Stronks and Kathy Lee make that happen.”

Many in the Pirate community admire the level of acceptance that they receive and experience on campus, and they hope that others feel that way as well.

“I know I speak for many Whitworth students when I say that we welcome and love all in our community,” senior Jeffrey DeBray said.

Stronks believes that achieving peaceful relations between the LGBTQ community and the conservative faith community will take a long period of time. However, she voices that there are steps individuals can take to come closer to achieving the main goal.

“You should step into the shoes of others who aren’t like you to learn more about their communities,” she said.

With the progress that the community is attempting to make, Stronks mentions that there is still a lot of work to be done.

“The challenge between LGBTQ civil rights and the conservative faith will exist forever,” Stronks said.

She is passionate about this topic and wants students to engage with each other and understand the whole community. Stronks is interested to hear from students about their experiences at Whitworth and the ways in which she can help them feel welcomed

“Last night after the lecture, I got emails from students that said that they are excited to make a difference on campus,” Stronks said. “I’m not sure what that will look like on campus, and I’m not sure what challenges students face, but I would like to know more.”