UPDATED: Biola Queer Underground promotes LGBTQ discussion on campus
University planning response
UPDATED Thursday, May 17, 11:45 a.m.:
The recent conversation on homosexuality is slated to continue tomorrow morning with a five- to 10- minute “family discussion” during chapel, president Barry Corey announced Monday.
Discussion about Biola’s standards and its students belonging to the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community has been buzzing around campus since last Wednesday when the Biola Queer Underground became public through posters, business cards and an ensuing flurry of social media activity.
The Underground describes itself as a group of LGBTQ students and allies who join in community for support and conversation on their website.
Biola's stance on homosexuality
On Thursday, Biola released a letter from Corey, as well as the school’s official Statement on Human Sexuality. Both documents described a desire to engage in conversations about sexuality that will extend into next semester.
The Statement on Human Sexuality, which was approved on Thursday by the Board of Trustees, expressed Biola’s official stance on same-gender sexual relationships alongside the standards regarding pre- and extra-marital sex.
"God’s design for marriage and sexuality is the foundational reason for viewing acts of sexual intimacy between a man and a woman outside of marriage, and any act of sexual intimacy between two persons of the same sex, as illegitimate moral options for the confessing Christian," it reads.
"Why single out gay people?"
Josh Wolff, a 2009 graduate of Rosemead School of Psychology, is a licensed psychologist and teaches at Rhode Island College. Wolff, who identifies as gay, has been corresponding with the Underground to offer advice and support.
He has published writings on the issue of homosexual students at Christian universities in both Inside Higher Ed and Christian Higher Education.
He commends Biola’s stance against pre-marital sex between any couple, but is concerned by the specifications of “homosexual behavior.”
“If people aren’t supposed to have sex before they’re married, why single out gay people in that phrase?” he asked.
It also “seems unnecessarily vague to say homosexual behavior,” he said, questioning whether hand holding or kissing were counted under those standards.
Conversational climate for LGBTQ community
The members of Biola Queer Underground are choosing to remain anonymous, describing the attitude at Biola toward the LGBTQ community as one in which “most LGBTQ people feel isolated and fearful of rejection should we act with integrity and come out of the closet,” on their website.
Chris Grace, Vice President for Student Development, University Planning, and Information Technology, said that while some students may hold a private view that is different from Biola’s official stance, most repercussions are involved when it comes to behaviors.
“A belief is one thing. Acting on that and telling other people to act on that — that violates what our community standards would be, and then we would [address that],” he explained.
BQU requests recognition for non-conforming gender identities
In response to the university's statement, BQU updated their website on Saturday with a list of questions they felt still need to be addressed, noting the issues of students who may deal with "non-conforming gender identity" and "those who do not view their own or other’s homosexuality as 'a struggle to maintain sexual purity.'"
Joshua Charles, a 2010 graduate from Biola’s music composition program, identifies as queer, a term which “has come to be sort of an umbrella, catch-all term within the queer community for any sort of non-normative sexuality,” Charles said.
He came out to most of his close friends soon after graduation, but did not tell his family until about a month ago.
Charles grappled with his sexuality during his time at Biola, not feeling particularly attracted to a specific gender. Because his attraction was “more romantic or relational” than sexual, he felt he had no outlet to discuss these issues, as they did not fall into typical categories.
“It would have been extraordinarily helpful for me as a student to have a safe space to explore issues and to not be threatened by negative stereotypes,” Charles said, emphasizing what he sees as the need for a group like BQU.
Students discuss their stance
Students on campus have begun discussing homosexuality, though the university has yet to provide any formal opportunities for conversation.
Sophomore Kaitlin Lanning hasn’t heard much of the conversation in everyday life, but has witnessed a lot of discussion online.
“So far, I’ve seen huge explosions of emotions and people yelling at each other over the Internet, but I think it’s kind of a rumbling here on campus and it’ll erupt at some point and everyone will be discussing it around campus,” she explained.
Biola Queer Underground said they would like to see a place on campus where sexuality can be discussed without fear of retaliation.
“Unless LGBTQ students who don’t view homosexuality or transgender identity as sinful are allowed to speak openly without threat, this conversation will continue to be one-sided,” reads the website.
Conversations about contract breaking
Grace believes Student Development is having healthy conversations with students who have approached them saying that they are struggling with same-sex attraction.
“We would walk along, or engage with, or assist that . . . student,” Grace said.
However, if someone is actively engaged in a same-sex relationship, the process with Student Development will differ.
“On the other hand, if a student says ‘I’m not struggling in this area, I’m in a [same-sex] relationship, and I think you’re wrong and I’m right,’ that [process] will be very different because they are violating our standards,” he said.
This applies across the board for any kind of issue, like cheating, alcohol or homosexuality, according to Grace.
“We live in a broken world and everybody struggles in sins and we’re going to engage people and help them,” Grace said.
Beyond conversation between students and administration, the Biola Queer Underground has caused other students to interact.
Sarah Croswhite, sophomore and Coalition for Social Action chair, said the website has caused her to talk with her roommate and think about her stance.
“I think the whole website is definitely doing its mission statement of causing a conversation. … I think it’s good to have these conversations, as long as they’re not angry, crazy conversations or anything like that, I think it’s really good to have these conversations,” she said.
-- Christine Chan contributed reporting
UPDATED Saturday, May 12, 5:30 p.m.:
The response, published on their homepage, highlighted the question of transgendered students or those with what the BQU refers to as “non-conforming gender identities.” Moreover, the response addressed the concern of students who do not see their homosexual identity as tied to sexual purity.
The BQU then reaffirmed their desire to “change hearts, not policies,” and elaborated on their concept of what a dialogue ought to look like on campus.
They then listed some questions for the university dealing with these issues.
Additionally, the organization has added a FAQ section to the website, addressing many of the questions that have been prevalent in online discussions.
They additionally added a tab titled “More” that includes published articles from "queer alumni."
UPDATED Thursday, May 10, 9:00 p.m.:
President Barry Corey emphasized Biola’s commitment to participating in difficult conversations regarding sexuality in his letter and the Biola Statement on Human Sexuality issued tonight.
“We aim to be a Christian community of grace. We do not ask each other to be perfect, but we endeavor to be people in active pursuit of biblical truth and growth to impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ,” Corey wrote in the letter.
Community is a topic of the Statement approved by the Board of Trustees today. The document attempts to clearly define Biola’s views on sexuality and marriage, saying marriages “model the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church …”
The Statement leaves no room for pre-marital, extra-marital or same-sex sexual activity for members of the university.
“God’s design for marriage and sexuality is the foundational reason for viewing acts of sexual intimacy between a man and a woman outside of marriage, and any act of sexual intimacy between two persons of the same sex, as illegitimate moral options for the confessing Christian,” it explains.
This definition is not meant to exclude further discussion of sexuality on campus, however. Instead, an excerpt says “We are committed to engaging difficult conversations with humility and love, prayerfulness and care, and all members of the Biola community are expected to treat one another with respect and Christ-like compassion. Hateful, bigoted or destructive interactions will not be tolerated.”
Additionally, Corey exhorted students to a standard of “kindness and respect,” as the conversation continues.
And he promised it will.
“In the coming academic year, we will have focused dialogue and campus-wide educational forums on human sexuality. Biola sees this as an opportunity to live out what it means to be a learning community of grace and love,” Corey wrote.
UPDATED Thursday, May 10, 7:00 p.m.:
In the wake of conversation on human sexuality started yesterday by the announcement of the Biola Queer Underground, Biola president Barry Corey released a letter concerning the continuation of that conversation shortly after 5 p.m.
“Human sexuality has been a topic of ongoing conversation for our community in small groups and larger settings over the past 10 years. Recent conversations and posts around our campus have once again caused me to reflect on how we need to continue this conversation in a Christ-honoring way," Corey said in his letter addressed to the Biola community.
Additionally, Corey included the newly approved Biola University Statement on Human Sexuality, which has been in the works for 18 months, according to the letter.
The Statement, which was already slated for discussion, was officially approved today by the Board of Trustees during their regularly scheduled meeting, Corey announced.
The letter and Statement will be released to students via a Student Communications email within the next day. The Chimes will provide a more detailed overview of the two as part of our continuing coverage tonight.
ORIGINAL Wednesday, May 9, 5:00 p.m.:
Biola Queer Underground business cards and posters canvassed Metzger Lawn early Wednesday morning calling for recognition of the LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — community on campus.
“I think it’s starting a lot of good dialogue on campus,” said junior Andrew Entzminger, president of the Democrat Club at Biola. “It’s a good thing. I’m glad this dialogue is being opened up. It’s a topic not really ever talked about.”
The business cards and posters included the group’s website link and an email address where LGBTQ students could privately reach them.
On the Underground website the group’s goals are laid out in a letter to the university administration and community. The website states neither the group nor the website itself are endorsed by Biola.
“We want to bring to light the presence of the LGBTQ community at Biola. Despite what some may assume, there are Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender, and Queers at Biola. We are Biola's students, alumni, employees, and fellow followers of Christ,” according to the website.
The university is planning a response to the group's concerns by responding to the Biola Queer Underground website in the next few days, according to Danny Paschall, dean of students. Such a complex issue can’t be responded to in just one sentence, he explained, saying that the goal of the university is to respond thoughtfully and respectfully.
The promotional materials were only present for a few hours before Campus Safety officers proceeded to remove the signage from the lawn and surrounding areas.
“Campus Safety picked them up because they were not approved to be posted around campus,” said Justin Shelby, administrative operations manager for Campus Safety. “Anything posted on campus has to be approved and these signs weren't approved.”
The viral marketing and promotion has sparked conversations on Facebook and Twitter, despite the short time the posters were up, according to Entzminger.
“Even on Facebook there are dialogues with people who seem to be very opinionated against homosexuality in all forms,” Entzminger said. “There have been people who have been spreading the link on Facebook. I know several people have joked about reading the website before it gets blocked on Websense.”