Students at Seattle Pacific University protested the school’s LBGTQ policies by refusing to shake hands with the interim president during commencement on Monday, handing him a gay pride flag instead.
The protest was in response to SPU, a Christian institution affiliated with the Free Methodist Church, upholding a ban on hiring people in same-sex relationships.
“While this decision brings complex and heart-felt reactions, the board made a decision that it believed was most in line with the university‘s mission and Statement of Faith and chose to have SPU remain in communion with its founding denomination, the Free Methodist Church USA, as a core part of its historical identity as a Christian university,” SPU Board Chairman Cedric David said in a statement.
The protest went viral on TikTok when the account @EngaygeTheCulture posted a montage of students politely refusing the handshake and handing SPU Interim President Pete Menjares small gay pride flags. The video garnered over 600 thousand likes.
The caption for the video reads: “POV: the president of your university thinks being LGBTQ+ is a ‘lifestyle choice’ and a ‘morality issue’ so you decide to give him a gift at graduation.”
The demonstration did not stop at the graduation ceremony.
The Associated Students of Seattle Pacific has been overseeing a sit-in at the SPU administration building for the past few weeks. Students are calling for an end to a policy they see as openly homophobic and discriminatory.
“University employees are expected to refrain from: sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the University‘s understanding of Biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity, and same-sex sexual activity,” according to the policy.
Students and the association are calling for the university to disaffiliate with Free Methodist Church USA and for those who voted for the policy to be fired.
“Students are also calling for a disaffiliation with the Free Methodist Church because if our affiliation is causing them to discriminate, then why are we affiliated,” ASSP President Laur Lugos told Seattle-based NBC affiliate KING-TV.
Classes ended for the summer but students plan to continue protesting. ASSP also plans to file a lawsuit against the university accusing the board of failing in its fiduciary duties. The students have started a GoFundMe and raised over half of their $50,000 goal.