By Spencer Nelson ’17
This past Tuesday, October 11 was National Coming Out Day (NCOD). This was decently well-publicized at Macalester by the Department of Multicultural Life, and it even got a shoutout in the Daily Piper. While Macalester is not always the safest and most welcoming place for LGBTQ individuals, there are institutions across the United States (including in Minnesota), in which celebratory and reflective days such as NCOD are a pipe dream.
There are an exorbitant number of colleges across the country that do not have non-discrimination policies in hiring practices or admittance concerning sexual orientation or gender identity. Even more alarming are the hundreds of higher education institutions that have explicitly discriminatory policies against sexual orientation and gender identity, where there are often codified zero-tolerance policies for “sexually immoral behavior.” Dozens of these schools have sought and won Title IX exemption to continue their discriminatory practices and still receive federal funding. While there is a laundry list of issues that need to be talked about and addressed with respect to these institutions, I will highlight the colleges here in Minnesota that have such policies and Macalester’s interactions with them, particularly in athletics.
Minnesota is often praised for its acceptance of LGBTQ individuals and for having sexual orientation defined as a “protected class” by the Department of Human Rights. Given this status, it is important to acknowledge the darker side of Minnesota’s treatment of LGBTQ individuals in higher education. There are eight higher education institutions in Minnesota that have codified discriminatory policies concerning LGBTQ individuals: Crown College, Bethel University, University of Northwestern, Crossroads College, Oak Hills Christian, Martin Luther College, Bethany Lutheran College and North Central College.
Minnesota exempts religious institutions from the state’s non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation if it violates their religious beliefs. While we should all respect institutions’ religious rights, it is important to separate those from clear bigotry, which defies state law. To exemplify these discriminatory policies, one could look to Crown College’s student handbook. It reads, “The College does not tolerate involvement in, participation in, or promotion of sexually immoral behavior such as premarital sex, cohabitation, adultery, homosexual behavior, or the use or display of pornographic, obscene, or suggestive materials of any kind (including materials found on the Internet).” Students are required to acknowledge their agreement with this policy, which also appears in their Covenant, and are required to have “full compliance” with it while enrolled at Crown.
This literal ban on non-straight students extends to staff and faculty as well. In Crown’s handbook it says, “Homosexual conduct is incompatible with Christian teaching and cannot be condoned. Therefore persons who engage in homosexual conduct and/or relationships may not be accepted for employment or continued employment.” This handbook also highlights a bigoted stance on non-cisgendered students. “We do not uphold the adoption of a gender identity opposite of one’s biological gender at birth. Nor do we uphold attempting to change one’s biological birth gender by medical means. Because of our beliefs and guidance from God’s word, we require and expect each member of our community to embrace and live in alignment with his or her birth sex. This includes, but is not limited to, using facilities in accordance with one’s birth sex.” Macalester primarily interacts with Crown, and similar institutions, through the athletics department. As a member of the Men’s Cross Country team, I know that we annually attend Crown College’s meet. This year, after delving more into Crown’s history and policies, I became aware of the college’s ban on LGBTQ students, staff and faculty. After bringing this to the attention of the athletics department, the department has agreed to allow the team to swap this meet for a different one, as it is in direct conflict with Macalester’s own non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation and gender identity. While this change was successful, it is a small piece of larger, institutional policy that needs to be created at Macalester and other colleges.
The objective of changing the meet is two-fold: protecting Macalester’s LGBTQ student athletes and staff and standing by our own non-discrimination policy, as well as engaging in conversation with Crown and other colleges about these harmful rules. As we become aware of these policies, it is important that Macalester condemn them publicly to make other institutions aware of the problem. After discussions about this issue with the athletics department and Student Affairs, Macalester will try to limit interactions with these institutions and communicate its concerns to them, hopefully encouraging other institutions that have non-discrimination policies against LGBTQ individuals to do the same. It is the hope that, through the process of condemning these policies, Crown and other institutions will understand that people care about the school’s treatment of LGBTQ individuals. In addition, it will also hopefully help give visibility to the struggles of LGBTQ students at these colleges.
It should be noted that Macalester has contractual agreements with many of these discriminatory institutions, perhaps most importantly Bethel University, as Bethel plays in our athletic conference. While Macalester will be able to avoid competing with most of these institutions in the future without too much hassle, we are required to compete against Bethel University in every sport that is in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), which is most. Bethel has the same policy as Crown, but seems to have received more notoriety in recent years, perhaps because of its larger size and more visible academics and athletics. In fact, an article published in Yes Magazine titled, “What It’s Like to Be Gay at a Christian College — Where It’s a Reportable Offense,” provides student narratives that detail the strenuous conditions that LGBTQ students at Bethel are subject to. These include forced abstinence, denial of sexual education and the prohibition of an LGBTQ student group, in addition to the constant degradation that these students face from peers and staff alike. It should be noted that while Bethel has an explicit “ban” on homosexual behavior (I’m not exactly sure what that means, anyway), there are certainly LGBTQ students that attend the college who are forced to conceal at least a portion of their identity.
Addressing Macalester’s, and the greater MIAC’s, relationship with Bethel will be disruptive and difficult, but is integral to the end goal: a repeal of Bethel’s discriminatory policies, and recognition and liberation of LGBTQ students, staff and faculty. Not only is Bethel the only college in the MIAC with anti-LGBTQ policies, it is the only college in the MIAC that does not have a specific non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation—that’s 12 of 13. Additionally, the MIAC itself has a non-discrimination policy for sexual orientation. Macalester should work with the 11 other colleges, as well as the MIAC itself, to condemn the practices and discrimination that exist at Bethel University and call for a discussion of how to address this policy and negotiate its repeal, for the safety and equality of LGBTQ student athletes and coaches as well as for the safety of athletic communities from competing schools such as Macalester.
It should be noted that a civil protest in this manner has precedent in both professional and collegiate sports. In the wake of North Carolina’s draconian anti-LGBTQ legislation, both the NBA and NCAA (our head governing body, as well as Bethel’s) have decided to protest this legislation by moving their championship games and not scheduling them there in the future, respectively. Moreover, individual colleges, such as the University of Vermont, have decided to not compete in North Carolina because of this policy, as it is dangerous to their coaching staff, student athletes and attendees. Macalester, and other institutions that value diversity and their LGBTQ community have an obligation to condemn, confront and engage in dialogue with these discriminatory colleges. While these efforts are disruptive and difficult, they are a requisite to equality in higher education institutions. Addressing these issues requires a diverse approach from different members of the Macalester community and beyond, thus I leave you with some concluding thoughts to move forward with on this issue.
Macalester students: educate your friends at other institutions in Minnesota (and beyond) about this important issue. Encourage them to bring up these issues of diversity, acceptance and discrimination with their administration. Reach out to the administration at Macalester and voice your concern for our participation in events at these institutions, and encourage them to move forward in conversations. To student athletes: talk with your coaching staff and teammates about these issues.
Macalester staff/faculty: Speak with your colleagues at other institutions, and let them know about these policies and how damaging the are for LGBTQ students. If inclined, reach out to relevant Macalester administration. If topical, integrate this information into your course.
Macalester administration: Continue to work with other colleges across the state to create a coalition of support to condemn these policies and foster dialogue about the change of these policies. I am proud of the work that the administration has done on this issue in the short amount of time since it was brought to its attention, but it is important that we continue this sense of urgency moving forward.
With the support of the Macalester community, I am confident we can work together to promote a more inclusive environment in higher institutions in athletics and beyond.