University of the Pacific Seattle students continue sit-in after viral graduation protest


(RNS) – Chloe Guillot had some parting words for Pete Menjares, acting president of Seattle Pacific University, as he presented her with a graduation diploma: “We’re not going to stop.”

She also had something to give him in exchange for the diploma: a rainbow pride flag.

Guillot was among graduates of Seattle Pacific University – a Christian school associated with the Free Methodist Church – who went viral and made national headlines for handing out Menjares rainbow flags as they received their diplomas on Sunday. It was the most recent demonstration of the ongoing protest by students against a policy prohibiting the hiring of LGBTQ people.

“It would be weird to go up there and pretend everything was normal,” Guillot told Religion News Service. “We weren’t just going to do all the pomp and circumstance and let this issue fade into the background.”

Since late May, Guillot and other students have staged a sit-in outside the president’s office in reaction to the board’s recent decision to maintain the hiring policy, which students have called homophobic and discriminatory.

RELATED: Seattle Pacific University students plan to sue for LGBTQ exclusion

School is now over and Guillot said they would continue with the sit-in until July 1, the deadline they gave administrators to rescind the policy. If they don’t, the students consider continuing the counseling. As of Friday, the students had raised more than $33,000 through GoFundMe to cover possible legal fees.

Guillot clarified that the lawsuit would be against the board of trustees, not the university.

“It’s not about the university being homophobic because at the end of the day the university is not. The university was retained by this board of directors,” Guillot said.

The board’s decision to retain the policy means that the university’s expectation of employee conduct is that employees “continue to reflect a traditional view of biblical marriage and sexuality, as an expression of the longstanding teaching of the church and biblical interpretation,” according to a statement from the board.

People take part in the third day of a sit-in at the University of the Pacific in Seattle, May 26, 2022, after the board of trustees recently decided to retain a policy that prohibits the hiring of LGBTQ people. Photo via Twitter/@SPUisGay

He upheld the policy so that the university would “maintain fellowship” with the Free Methodist Church in the United States. The students, however, said the Free Methodist Church had no “everyday impact on campus culture.” And the denomination does not contribute financially to the school.

In April 2021, the university’s faculty voted no confidence in its board of trustees after board members refused to change the hiring policy. The vote of no confidence was approved by 72% of the faculty.

The Free Methodist Church formed in 1860 when it split from the larger Methodist Church because of slavery. Free Methodists were abolitionists who also believed in the ordination of women. In the 20th century, the naming became more conservative.

Guillot, who will return to Seattle Pacific for her graduate studies, said she and other graduates will be involved in the trial and other legal aspects of their case. Undergraduate students will continue their activism on campus, she said.

Guillot said they hoped to raise more funds for their lawsuit after the new attention from the graduation protest. Pride flags, they reminded their new followers, “are part of a larger protest.” They too appeals to philanthropist MacKenzie Scott on Twitter for help.

“That’s been our goal, to bring this issue as much attention as possible,” she said.


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