Since the Supreme Court Decision this past June, LGBT+ issues have become a big talking point on campus, especially in regard to LGBT+ students. On Feb. 22, President Pistole hosted a forum in order to have a conversation with students, faculty, staff and community members as to how these issues should be handled on campus.
This forum is part of an initiative that Pistole has been pursuing to allow for open discussions about hard-hitting topics on campus. Last fall, Pistole held a forum to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis and how that would impact AU’s campus. At the beginning of the LGBT+ forum, Pistole announced a third forum that will be taking place in March about cultural competency.
“What I want on the campus of AU is for us to be able to talk about the things that are important to us so that we can have honest conversations, recognizing that we can always agree to disagree among ourselves and among others, but that we can do it in a safe way, and that we can respect each other,” Pistole said at the beginning of the forum.
The discussion began with Pistole asking attendees to identify the context for questions and issues they may have with regards to LGBT+ issues. Attendees brought up things like the Supreme Court decision, the RFRA that was brought up last year, how the church—especially Church of God—responds to LGBT+ people, how AU’s core values relate to LGBT+ issues and rules regarding same-sex couples on campus.
One of the things that Pistole chose to highlight for discussion was the Raven Safe Haven letter that spoke about AU students, faculty and staff being accepting of LGBT+ students on campus. In addition to individual context, Pistole spoke about how AU’s Church of God affiliation, as well as the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, affects how AU responds to these issues.
Pistole discussed how several universities have left the CCCU due to the way certain schools have handled LGBT+ issues with staff members. Two of the schools left because other schools were granting same-sex couples the same benefits as opposite-sex couples, and two others left because they were granting these rights and didn’t want other schools to feel they had to leave the organization because they didn’t agree with that stance.
Once attendees had the chance to speak about the context for their questions, Pistole invited them to voice the questions and feelings they had regarding LGBT+ issues on campus.
A large topic of discussion was the idea of forming an official Gay-Straight Alliance club, or a club with a similar goal on campus. Pistole spoke about how he had been approached by multiple students about forming this type of campus-sponsored club, but wasn’t sure how the Board of Trustees would feel about administration supporting this kind of club in an official sense. However, Pistole did say that he felt it was a good type of club to have so that LGBT+ students could feel safe on campus.
On Friday, Pistole sent a campus-wide email about the forum and the recent bomb threat. In the email, he stated that “everyone has a right to feel safe on campus. I expect everyone at AU to treat others with respect and dignity, regardless of differences.”
He continued, stating that “as a Christian university, we have additional resources available to us through our dedicated faculty and staff and student groups to discuss in a safe place how the love of God can transcend human differences. Each of us is entitled to our individual beliefs. How we live those out is a matter of living in community.”