Graduating Students Hand College President Pride Flags Over Anti-LGBT Rules

Students graduating from Seattle Pacific University (SPU) were seen giving the president of the school LGBT pride flags as part of a protest against the school's ban on allowing full-time staff to be in same-sex relationships.

The video was posted Monday to TikTok by the account @EngaygeTheCulture, which is run by the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific (ASSP), the group leading the SPU protest.

The clip—simply a montage of students handing over the flags and receiving their diplomas—is captioned "POV: the president of your university thinks being LGBTQ+ is a 'lifestyle choice' and a 'morality issue' so you decide to give him a gift at graduation," and has received nearly 2 million views.

"It was a wonderful day to celebrate with our graduates. Those who took the time to give me a flag showed me how they felt and I respect their view," SPU Interim President Pete Menjares told Newsweek.

@engaygetheculture

We’ve also been sleeping outside his office for 19 days in a gay sit-in but he usually doesn’t say hi to us. #pride #pridemonth #lgbtq #gay #graduation #fyp #seattle #changethepolicy #hiregayprofs

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Handing Menjares LGBT pride flags isn't the extent of the protest. ASSP has also been leading a sit-in at the school's administration building for the last 19 days. The organization is fighting against a policy—recently reaffirmed in May by the SPU board of trustees—which bans staff from having a same-sex relationship, according to The Seattle Times.

The policy is unpopular not just with the students, but faculty. Last year, the board of trustees upheld the policy in another vote, even after SPU had been sued by an adjunct professor who alleged he was denied a promotion because he was gay, the Times reports. That decision led the SPU Faculty Senate to vote they had "no confidence" in the board. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

seattle pacific pride flags homophobia president viral
Students graduating at Seattle Pacific University gave the president of the school pride flags as they received their diplomas in protest of a policy banning staff from being in same-sex relationships. Cristina Moliner/Getty

However, it could be tricky to remove the policy. SPU is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church USA, according to the Times, and has been since it was founded in 1891, according to KIRO-TV. And the Free Methodist Church USA threatened to pull its affiliation should the school drop the controversial policy.

"We want the community of SPU to know that this was a thorough and prayerful deliberation," Board Chair Cedric Davis said in a statement released by SPU on May 23. "While this decision brings complex and heart-felt reactions, the Board made a decision that it believed was most in line with the university's mission and Statement of Faith and chose to have SPU remain in communion with its founding denomination, the Free Methodist Church USA, as a core part of its historical identity as a Christian university."

Protesters are calling not just for a change in the policy, but for the board to reveal how each member voted on the policy, for the members who voted in favor to resign and those that remain to officially condemn those who voted for it. ASSP President Laur Lugos told KING-TV students also urge SPU break ties with the church.

"Students are also calling for a disaffiliation with the Free Methodist Church because if our affiliation is causing them to discriminate, then why are we affiliated," Lugos said.

Lugos added that while the school is heading into summer break, the sit-in protest will not stop, with alumni joining the effort. In addition, the ASSP has set up a GoFundMe, currently at $27,420 out of a $50,000 goal, in order to raise funds for a lawsuit against the SPU board of trustees for breach of fiduciary duty, alleging that the board is not acting in the school's best interests.

Newsweek has reached out to the Associated Students of Seattle Pacific for comment.

Update 6/13/2022, 9 p.m.: This article has been updated to include comment from SPU.