Queerly Christian

Semler concert empowered students to keep fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights

Micah Lim, Staff Writer

This past Friday November 5th, queer Christian artist Semler performed live at Seattle Pacific University in Upper Gwinn. This event was made possible by Associated Students of Seattle Pacific (ASSP). (Courtesy of Chloe Guillot)

There is music in every movement. Just as Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” became an anthem for civil rights, new issues give rise to a response in song.

On Friday night, Nov. 5, students lined up outside Upper Gwinn to see queer Christian artist, Semler, perform live at Seattle Pacific University. Hosted by Associated Students of Seattle Pacific (ASSP), the event proved timely given the current social climate on campus. SPU’s Statement on Human Sexuality and Jeaux Rinedahl’s second lawsuit against SPU for discriminatory hiring practices left many students feeling unwelcome at the university.

Lauren Wolbaum ‘17, returned to campus to participate in the social movement and celebrate the progress made since her student years.

“I think it’s very emblematic that an openly queer artist who talks openly about their experiences growing up in the church is coming to SPU at a time where the social climate on campus is shifting,” Wolbaum said.“For me and other people, coming back to campus is hard, but to see how the community has transformed and mobilized is really exciting.”

Although many forms of protest preceded Semler’s concert, dissent was not the focus of Friday night. Rather, the performance was an opportunity to relieve the stress of SPU’s queer community.

ASSP worked tirelessly to host the event. Plans to invite Semler started back in August of this year.

As vice president of ministries, senior theology and social justice major Chloe Guillot decided to draw attention away from any chance of a negative atmosphere.

“Semler asked me if [they] should speak on the school’s situation and I said ‘no, let’s make this a night of celebration,’” Guillot said. “I think right now, we are in so much protest and pain and being exploited. We’re so used to having to show up because we’re disappointed, hurt or angry. So, to have that collective sigh of relief, that moment of exhale, I think that’s why tonight was so important.”

ASSP President Laur Lugos hoped to create a space that SPU was not willing to provide.

“The special thing about this event is we have representation from a queer Christian context. We just don’t have a ton of role models. I think that having Semler here was a breath of fresh air,” said Lugos.

Semler spent the night singing tracks off their latest EP, “Late Bloomer,” while the audience laughed, sang and cheered.

Grace Semler Baldridge grew up intangible to the church. Their father was an Episcopal priest, and Baldrige spent their youth at many evangelical youth events. However, Baldridge faced rejection from the faith community after embracing their queer idenity.

“I had so much hope, but when I became honest with who I was, a queer person, it was all stripped away. I was told that on the other side of the Church there would be hurt and pain, no belonging, no community,” Baldridge said. “But as I worked to peel back the layers of myself, what I found was not what was told to me. I found belonging, understanding and an interest in scripture and divinity.”

Baldridge knows that the pursuit of authenticity and identity is a struggle and wants to create songs that resonate with hurtful experiences that may stem from the church.

“You are worth the time and effort to figure yourself out even if the road to get there feels very daunting. Part of loving yourself is seeing representation of someone you can relate to,” Baldridge said. “Jesus put it bluntly and said ‘Love your neighbor as yourself and in so doing, you will love the Lord your God.’ We always forget about the loving yourself part.”

Semler’s performance presented an intersection between gender identity and religion, both communities experienced affirmation and restoration. The Seattle Pacific University Alumni Coalition for Equity, better known as Queer Space, and the Theology Student Union were available at the concert to support students pursuing journeys of both faith and gender.

Erin Scanlan ‘12, spent the evening volunteering with Queer Space. At their booth, resources were available for queer students in search of safe environments to express their identity. For Scanlan, the concert redeemed their experience as a student.

“The last time I was here, I sat in Upper Gwinn… crying because I was told that who I was, was not compatible with who God wanted me to be, but I couldn’t change it. So, coming here tonight and being able to stand in the same place and say that I am queer and that God really loves me is really powerful,” Scanlan said.

Senior theology major Cody Sugai represented SPU’s Theology Student Union to show support for the LGBTQIA+ community and share affirming scripture.

“This is not just a culture conversation, but a theological and religious side too,” Sugai said. “As part of humanity and part of our identity as people, we are created in the image of a God who doesn’t discriminate. At TSU, we want to live that out.”

Like the aftermath of a worship sermon, the audience left Upper Gwinn with tender feelings. The experience created by Semler’s music puts a foot forward in the movement at SPU, and Guillot expressed that the fight for queer representation will persist beyond a single concert.
“I know this is not the end. ASSP will come back next year. More than ASSP, I hope this event inspires everyone else, because we really need the whole SPU community to be involved,” Guillot said.