LGBTQIA+ demonstration on first day of classes

Pride display on campus sparks conversations among students

Audrey Oscarson, Staff Writer

Pride flags placed around Tiffany Loop in support of the LGBTQ+
Community. (Sharli Mishra)

Seattle Pacific University’s tumultuous history with the LGBTQIA+ community is once again being brought to the forefront after an anonymous group organized a pride display for the first day of school.


On the morning of Sept. 13, students at SPU arrived on campus for their first day of classes to find it decorated with a variety of LGBTQIA+ pride flags and messages written in chalk. Accompanying the flags and messages were flyers that read “SPU is gay” and included a QR code that linked to more information. The decorations were left anonymously, placed sometime the night before.


Flags lined the sidewalks all throughout campus and represented a number of identities including gay, lesbian, bisexual, nonbinary, asexual, trans and pansexual. In Martin Square, there were more full size flags hanging between light posts. There were also chalk messages around campus, saying things like “SPU is gay,” “This is where I came out” and “God is trans.”


This demonstration came in the wake of the lawsuit filed against SPU earlier in 2021. 


In January, Jeaux Rinedahl, an adjunct professor, accused the university of sexual orientation discrimination after they did not hire him for a full-time position. Rinedahl claimed he was denied the position because he is gay. 


Since then, there have been multiple protests by students, faculty, and alumni, encouraging the Board of Trustees to remove the statement on human sexuality, which states that “sexual experience is intended between a man and a woman.”


Student reactions to Monday’s events were varied, according to first year sociology major Abigail Livengood.


“I was shocked in a good way,” said Livengood. “To see that support, I think it made the first day better.”


Even students who do not identify with or have friends in the LGBTQIA+ community were impacted by the display, says Gabe Endersen, a first year business administration information systems major.


“I felt like it was a great welcoming presence for those in the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Endersen.


Because SPU is a Christian institution, the Board of Trustees makes their decisions in accordance with their biblical beliefs. This has made the conversation around LGBTQIA+ representation at SPU even more nuanced. Many students, like Mayra Carrion, a first year student majoring in international business, are struggling to reconcile the events with their faith.


“I don’t mind [the flags],” says Carrion. “But the messages, like ‘God is trans’ and ‘God is gay,’ for me that was a lack of respect. I’m not being homophobic, you just disrespected my religion.”

Chalk art around campus displaying that SPU should be a safe space for everyone. (Sharli Mishra)

The demonstration sparked many conversations among students during the first week of class, revealing just how diverse the student body is.


 “I’ve overheard other people talking negatively,”  Livengood said, “but [I] saw it and thought it was really cool.”


For many students, it changed how they expected their first day of classes to go. 


“Conversation on the first day instead of being ‘how are your classes’ was instead ‘did you see what they did’,” Carrion said. “It put the focus on something it shouldn’t have been on.”


For first year physiology and honors major Lainey Mendoza, the demonstration was eye opening to the history SPU has with the LGBTQ+ community. Before coming to the school, Mendoza had no knowledge of the lawsuit or statement on human sexuality. She initially thought the decorations had been put up by the administration.


“I felt that SPU was being inclusive by showing their pride, but I didn’t know why,” Mendoza said.


After learning about the lawsuit and controversial statement on human sexuality, Mendoza was able to understand why students had such passionate responses to the demonstration.  


“I can understand where SPU is coming from since they are a Christian school,” said Mendoza. “It’s shocking, but not surprising.”


SPU responded with an email on Tuesday, sent by Craig Kispert, Senior VP for Finance and Administration, outlining the appropriate use of campus grounds and facilities. The email made it clear that the demonstration went against university guidelines. 


Regardless of the intended message or purpose, and in keeping with long-standing University policy, any public signs or installations not approved in accordance with policies are prohibited on campus grounds,” said Kispert in the email.


According to Mark Reid, director of the Office of Safety and Security, OSS has not been asked to investigate.


This demonstration indicates that the conversation surrounding the statement on human sexuality will continue throughout the 2021-2022 school year. 


“Everyone needs to respect each other’s opinions,” says Carrion. “I’m good to agree to disagree.”