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Students and Alumni Organize to Bring Visibility to LGBTQIA+ Experiences

PLNU alumni hold signs at the entrance of the university and interact with cars driving on and off campus.

Friday morning, Point Loma Nazarene University students stood silently in protest outside of Brown Chapel in honor of the Day of (NO) Silence. According to GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, the Day of (NO) Silence is a national student-led demonstration that protests the harmful effects of harassment of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Just 1,000 feet away, at the entrance of campus, nearly 30 additional protestors from the Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition held up signs and interacted with cars entering and exiting campus.

Students gather at the front of Brown Chapel

Outside of Brown Chapel, faculty held hands. Staff gathered, unsure where they were meant to take up space. The only disruption to the students’ silence was the shift of signs fluttering in the wind. 

Students gather in a semicircle at the entrance of Brown Chapel. All photos courtesy of Lainie Alfaro.

The students arrived outside Brown Chapel around 9 a.m. The demonstration organizers Sarah Bell, third-year Christian Studies major, Ellie Carlson, third-year political science major, Gracie Fama, fourth-year international studies major, and Sydney McFadden, fourth-year international studies major, gathered their group and distributed signs which ranged in messages from “You can’t erase us,” to “Out and Proud,” to “My God loves everyone.” One sign quoted a paragraph from the PLNU student handbook section on human sexuality: “PLNU seeks to be a community where lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and intersex persons are treated with dignity, grace, and holy love in the spirit of Christ.”

On April 12, PLNU’s LGBTQIA+ student affinity group, Voices of Love (VOL), held an open discussion about the past week’s events regarding the alleged firing of the Dean of the School of Theology, Mark Maddix. Provost Kerry Fulcher allegedly was responsible for making the decision and sent an email to the student body regarding the alleged firing. According to organizers, the meeting was intended to create space for students to process what happened. At the end of the meeting, the 46 student attendees were given information about the April 14 demonstration.

It was made clear the demonstration would not be affiliated with VOL. Bell, organizer and VOL leader, said it has taken over a decade to fight for the presence of VOL, which is the only designated safe space for queer people and allies, so she said the organizers wanted to avoid any scrutiny that may endanger it.

Bell said she has also heard from faculty and staff that they fear for their job if they openly support the queer community on campus. Because of this, Bell said the co-leaders of VOL wanted to protect the jobs of their advisors. 

“It’s frustrating that the students who are directly being harmed and affected even have to worry about and account for the feelings of those in power who are supposed to be supporting the students,” Bell said.

Bell said that 80 students were in attendance on the day of the protest. 

The organizers told The Point that they had specific goals for the protest.

“Our objectives are to provide LGBTQ+ students and allies visibility, to show admin that the student body does not stand with or support its discriminatory LGBTQ+ policies, the treatment of Mark Maddix and Melissa Tucker and the behavior and actions of Kerry Fulcher and the administration,” Carlson said.

Maddix was allegedly fired for publicly disagreeing with Fulcher when Fulcher said Tucker would not be allowed to return as an adjunct because of her pro-LGBTQIA+ stance.

The objectives, Bell said, stem from Christian values. 

“The goal is to live into the call of Christian community: to love each other, to love your neighbor better, to love God better and right now that’s not happening,” Bell said.

Jessica White, fourth-year environmental studies major, was a student demonstration attendee. White said that her purpose in participating was to bring visibility to LGBTQIA+ experiences.

“I want queer students to walk by and to know that they are welcomed and accepted on this campus,” White said. “We also want the campus administration to know that there are queer people on this campus and there are allies who really care about these issues.”

Students who attended the demonstration were encouraged to wear PLNU attire and gear in response to the email sent to the entire student body by Fulcher on April 11, who referred to the Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition as “a third-party group.” 

“A huge part of Kerry Fulcher’s email was talking about these third-party groups that are infiltrating and trying to polarize the campus,” White said. “We wanted to make it clear that we are students here, and not a third party group, and that this polarization that he is trying to make it seem is happening is not polarization. We are just trying to bring attention to the issue and that we want connection, we want community. That is why we are wearing Point Loma shirts.”

Some students walked directly past the student demonstrators into Brown Chapel. Some accepted the pamphlets that were being handed out by demonstrators while others sat outside to process the demonstration. 

When third-year psychology major Ashley Portillo first saw the demonstration, she said she felt shocked. 

“I’m still figuring out what my reaction is,” Portillo said. “I think more of a heart drop type of thing.”

Portillo said she decided to stop and sit off to the side. 

“I think I immediately just started praying honestly in my head,” Portillo said. “I was just praying that God would teach me what to say, what to do, if not to do anything and just sit with people.”

Along with current students, admitted preview students and their parents witnessed the demonstration as they walked into chapel. 

The Point spoke with two parents of an admitted student who plans to attend PLNU in the fall. Michelle and David Survillas said they researched the university and felt comfortable with its theological stances.

“We were not thwarted at all by these kids doing, you know, a peaceful demonstration,” Michelle said. “We are not necessarily advocating or for anything in that matter. We understood that it was just their way of expressing themselves. It didn’t affect our viewpoint or perspective on this college at all.”

PLNU admissions sent an email to preview families the night before the demonstration, according to Lora Fleming, director of communications.

“[Preview students] were notified to let them know what they might encounter and to ask that all Preview Day participants show respect and dignity to the group,” Fleming said via email.

A part of the email sent to preview students stated, “Although tomorrow might have some additional ‘greeters’ at the front, we would humbly ask that you treat everyone that you encounter with dignity and respect. Likewise, we will ensure that you have easy access as you make your way on campus and that your day at PLNU is filled with special moments, unique experiences and an authentic peek into life at Loma.” 

David Survillas said the protest was actually a positive indicator of the university’s willingness to hear differing perspectives. 

“It shows that the university is willing to allow people to express differences and they’re not afraid to address those differences and frame it in a way that reflects our faith,” David said. 

Reverend Esteban Trujillo, PLNU’s university chaplain, walked outside to greet the students who were organized prior to chapel. 

“I acknowledge that there are students, staff and faculty [who] are hurting and in pain in many different ways,” Trujillo said. “For me, to see a demonstration like that was not surprising at all. For me to acknowledge that and to care for our students in the midst of that is my biggest priority. I want to walk with students. I want to hear their stories. I want to hear about their pain. I want to be able to care for them in the midst of that.”

Trujillo said he did not see this demonstration as a disruption to chapel but as a chance for open communication. 

“I think it [the demonstration] helps us to continue to understand that there are still particular populations within our student body who still feel hurt and still feel like their voices aren’t being heard,” Trujillo said. “The response of the university is to open space for them, to be heard and have good dialogue. That for us is part of what it means to be even a Wesleyan institution. To be a people who have charitable dialogue is part of who we are. It’s a marker of who we are distinctly as a Wesleyan institution. It’s a distinction of who we are as the body of Christ.”

Alumni join in at the entrance of PLNU’s campus

The demonstration happening at the entrance of campus was led by PLNU alum and founder of the Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition, Lauren Cazarez, who created a joint statement that called for the resignation of Fulcher on April 6. 

PLNU alumni hold signs at the entrance of the university and interact with cars driving on and off campus.

A table of refreshments was placed at the entrance of the school with a sign that read, “PLNU welcomes you with warmth, respect and hospitality. Everyone is welcome to the refreshments.” Fleming said the refreshments were from university leadership, and she offered a statement via email on behalf of the university.

“There’s a recognition that this last week and a half has been incredibly difficult for many students, faculty, staff and alums,” Fleming said. “Right now, it’s crucial to find ways to let every member of the PLNU community know that they are seen and supported by the university.”

PLNU alum Delaney O’Keefe (’18), was present at the demonstration and was one of the first student leaders of VOL, which started back in 2015. She said she heard about the protest from her sister, who is on the coalition’s email list.

While O’Keefe said that she had a positive experience at PLNU, she said she had a door shut on her when she came out during her third year. 

“I was super vocal and it was right after the [2016 presidential] election, so I felt really empowered and felt that it was really important to speak out,” O’Keefe said. “At that time, I was still really passionate about proving that I could still have my ‘Christian morals’ and be openly queer. So I spent my whole last two years at Loma really trying to prove that I existed, mattered, and was a relevant, valid student at Loma.”

O’Keefe said that she was not surprised when the news regarding Mark Maddix’s alleged firing came out last week, but was surprised to see Fulcher’s name. 

While O’Keefe was a student at PLNU, she said she engaged with Fulcher in discussions about queerness and the church. O’Keefe said she felt supported by Fulcher. So, when the news was released that he was involved, O’Keefe said she felt it was important to express her feelings to Fulcher in an email.

“But in his email, he made it clear that his theological stance had never changed. I experienced a lot of hard reality after leaving Loma, realizing that I do not have the power that I thought that I did to change people’s minds and it brought back a lot of hurt,” O’Keefe said.

Similar to O’Keefe, PLNU alum Sammi Maraca (’20) did not come out until they were a third-year student and a part of VOL. 

“I came here and found people who actually critically engaged with what it means to love your neighbor and I realized that I never experienced that before,” Maraca said. “Through that, I was able to ask myself genuine questions about myself. I had a lot of faculty here that supported me when I came out and genuinely saved my life.”

When Maraca came to the alumni protest, they were not aware that a separate protest was being led by PLNU students.

“I feel that it is really cool that people are doing this work on the inside and other people doing work on the outside,” Maraca said. “It feels very hopeful, not in the way that I think Point Loma will change overnight, but more and more people will be able to actually see what it looks like to love your neighbor and exist in ways that celebrate human life and do not try to destroy it.”

PLNU alum Chelsea Klaseus (’05) said that she was not comfortable coming out while she was a student. She said that during her time at PLNU gay marriage was illegal, people used queer slurs on campus and discussions about homosexuality being a sin were held in chapel. For this reason, she was not involved with anything PLNU-related as an alum until the Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition walked together at the annual Loma 5K in February.

Non-PLNU affiliated groups, such as PFLAG San Diego County, were also in attendance at the Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition’s protest. 

The current president of PFLAG, Terrie Vorono, and another member of the organization said that their mission of supporting, educating and advocating for LGBTQIA+ people and their families was the reason they showed up.

“That is why we are here today, to support these students in being recognized on their campus and affirmed, and the faculty that are also affirming,” Vorono said.

A Point Loma neighbor who walked by during the protest said that they were aware of what had been published in the press regarding recent occurrences within the institution. They said that they saw the protest as a pleasant surprise.

“I do appreciate there being a protest and people coming out in support of the faculty or staff that was affected by this,” the Point Loma neighbor said. “I think this is important because I questioned how does the school, how do students, how do alumni feel about it and is this sort of a pervasive issue within Point Loma Nazarene. Where is the divide, how do they feel about it? I think it is really positive that students are coming out.”

A prospective student also saw the demonstration as they drove into campus and said it sent a positive message too.

“‘Amazing’ is the word I would use,” the prospective student said. “This makes me so happy. This definitely makes me want to come here more. I did not know there were so many people here that were so accepting and loving.”

However, organizer Bell said the positive feedback was bittersweet. 

“I felt torn because as much as I want to put those parents’ minds at ease, I actually cannot confidently say that their child would be seen, welcomed, or safe at PLNU as it currently is,” Bell said. “Our goal is to improve the university and make it a place where all students are truly able to flourish, but that’s not what is currently happening.” 

Two students create a table to respond

After the student demonstration, Portillo and third-year computer science major Noah Shaw set up a table outside of Nicholson Commons with signs reading “Let’s have a conversation,” and “I believe God loves everyone AND marriage is between one man and one woman. Let’s talk about it.” Shaw said they remained there from 12:15 p.m. until 5:30 p.m.

Portillo and Shaw sit at their table outside of Nicholson Commons.

“I wanted to open up this conversation because I don’t think that there have been alternate points of view given or a platform to be spoken,” Shaw said. “I’m coming from the platform of God loves everyone yet at the same time the Bible defines marriage between one man and one woman.”

Shaw said that he believes the Bible sets out clear details about the ways Christians are meant to live. 

“I believe, at least with marriage and sexuality, the Bible lays out a specific way we are called to live,” Shaw said.

While many students came by and either said hello or hung out at his table, Shaw said six engaged in the conversation.

Organizer Fama said Portillo and Shaw’s actions were frustrating to see. 

“This was not surprising, but more disappointing because they missed the objective of our protest,” Fama said. 

Fama said that if someone wants to counter a protest, it should counter the message correctly.

“In no way were we demanding the church of the Nazarene to change their stance on gay marriage,” Fama said. “We were there to peacefully demonstrate visibility and dignity for the queer student body and to share the message that queer people have and will continue to exist in all spaces and further, that these students and employees deserve to be treated with love and respect at the bare minimum. That’s not something to be argued.”

Walter Augustine, associate vice president of the Diversity and Belonging Office of the President, sent an email to students on April 14 stating The Office of Student Life and Formation will be providing an opportunity for students to come together to process recent events in a safe and supportive environment. On April 18, a follow-up email was sent inviting students to attend meetings that will be held on April 19 and April 20 from 3 to 4 p.m. in Cunningham.

Written By: Sarah Gleason, Katie Morris and Lainie Alfaro