George Fox University Alums Call for Change in Anti-Gay Policies

Originally published March 9, 2012 in PQ Monthly

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

A group of LGBT alumni and allies of George Fox University are calling on administrators to re-examine the school’s policies around homosexuality.

OneGeorgeFox, the alumni group, published an open letter March 1 calling for greater support for LGBTQ students at the Christian university (Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends). It specifically calls on George Fox to change its policy on “Sexual Purity,”which makes engaging in sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage a punishable offense:

Like heterosexual people, most of us have a very basic human need for the emotional intimacy and physical affection that comes from a committed relationship. Consequently, making acceptance of LGBTQ people within the George Fox community contingent on celibacy is not loving or responsible. We are not asking for permission to live “a promiscuous gay lifestyle.” We want a spouse. We want a family. We want romance! And we deserve a community that accepts us and will nurture our relationships and our families. We are building that community now through our alumni group, OneGeorgeFox. The students are also building that community through a student group called GFU Common Ground.

Paul Southwick, a gay 2005 graduate and cofounder of OneGeorgeFox, says that he and two other alums — Travis Shafer and Appeals Court Judge Darleen Ortega — had expressed their concerns to administrators privately, but were spurred to action when a suicidal gay student was referred to them by faculty at the end of last year.

“We sensed an urgency that something needed to be done to create a safer place for students,” Southwick says.

The university responded to the letter yesterday with a statement on its website affirming its commitment to treating everyone with dignity, apologizing for hurting anyone’s feelings, and reiterating its position that marriage is limited to heterosexual couples. The statement did not address the university’s policies for students or faculty.

Because professors could lose their jobs for “supporting homosexuality,” Southwick says, allied faculty are hesitant to sign the letter and are unable to make themselves known as a safe person for LGBTQ student.

In addition to the letter (which has more than 250 signatures), the OneGeorgeFox website features alumni perspectives, news, and resources. But that is just the soft launch. The group’s big coming out party will be with a March 14 event featuring recently out Christian musician Jennifer Knapp and Gay Christian Network director Justin Lee.  The event came out of an attempt to balance a speaker the university is hosting earlier that day — Christopher Yuan.

Yuan is an ex-gay minister who promotes the idea of “holy sexuality” (as opposed to hetero- or homo-), which essentially amounts to marriage for straight folks and celibacy for gays. What make him an expert? According to his blog:

What many would consider their worst nightmare has become a reality for Christopher Yuan. While attending dental school, he began living promiscuously as a homosexual and experimenting with illicit drugs. Within a few years, he was expelled from dental school, imprisoned for drug dealing and discovered that he was HIV positive.

Naturally, OneGeorgeFox wanted to offer an alternative perspective. But the administration wasn’t interested in sharing the event. George Fox told the group it couldn’t even hold a separate gay-affirming event on campus. Why? The student Code of Conduct apparently extends to guest speakers. According to the George Fox Student Handbook, homosexual activity is forbidden. Knowing about a violation and failing to take action is also a violation. Therefore, no speakers affirming same-sex relationships are allowed at this time, Southwick says.

Instead, the OneGeorgeFox event will be held at the Chehalem Cultural Center. It starts at 6 p.m. and is open to the public — you can find more info here. And check out the March 15 issue of PQ Monthly for more on this story.

Erin Rook is a staff writer for PQ Monthly. Erin can be reached at erin@pqmonthly.com.

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