Petitioning for change

Student ally wants Hope College to welcome LGBT students

By Jim Larkin

HOLLAND -

An 18-year-old Hope College freshman is trying to accomplish what groups of influential alumni, students and community leaders could not: Convince Hope College officials to become more accepting and supportive of its LGBT students.

Bridget McCarthy, a theatre major at Hope, already has more than 1,000 people who support her petition on http://www.change.org/petitions/president-hope-college-amend-the-official-statement-on-human-sexuality-to-recognize-lgbtq-groups, which asks the Hope College Board of Trustees and president to recognize LGBTQ groups on campus, just days after starting it.

McCarthy is making the request for the same reason that Hope College leaders have refused to recognize such groups - she says it's the Christian thing to do.

"I came here and was absolutely appalled by the things that were done to homosexuals in the name of Christianity," said McCarthy, a Grand Haven High School graduate. "I am a Christian, and I freaking love Jesus and what he stands for. I also know for a fact that what is happening at Hope is so contrary to what He wants. I need some help to change it."

Mary Bauman, chairperson of the Hope College Board of Trustees said, "it's premature for me to respond" to McCarthy's efforts because she hadn't been formally informed of the petition or been given a chance to study it.

McCarthy isn't the first to try to make the college administration change its stance about gay issues. After Hope College refused to allow screenwriter Dustin Lance Black to discuss his Academy Award-winning film "Milk" on campus, a group of influential alumni petitioned the college board, asking that it change its policy on human sexuality because it discriminated against homosexual students.

A newly formed group of Hope students, called Hope is Ready, also sought the change, as did a group of Holland community leaders called Holland is Ready.

The policy, which college leaders said prohibited discussions promoting homosexuality, was amended, but opponents said it still discriminated against the LGBT community while also making it possible to punish those who advocate for LGBT students. It states, "Hope College will not recognize or support campus groups whose aim by statement, practice, or intimidation is to promote a vision of human sexuality that is contrary to this understanding of biblical teaching."

McCarthy, a straight student who said her background in theatre has introduced her to "lots and lots of friends who are LGBT," said she has seen the results of such a policy. She said a female-to-male transgender student was placed in a female dorm for a year and that a student who sought help because students called him a "nigger fag" received only a passive response. A friend, she added, returns home to his dorm to see Bible verses that condemn his lifestyle and tell him he is destined to Hell.

"Those are just a couple of incidents. People are hurting all over," McCarthy said. "They've set an atmosphere here where it's OK to be intolerant. I've been hearing story after story about how LGBT students have been mistreated.

"I got angry when I realized how Hope College - a college I absolutely love - has failed its LGBT students. I want LGBT students to be able to have the same amazing experience here I have and we can start to make that possible by having the administration recognize LGBT groups."

Getting Holland ready

The Rev. Don Van Hoeven, a member of the alumni group that petitioned the school to change its policy, stated earlier that the amended policy has also impacted Hope's faculty. He said because the new policy does not define "promotion" or "advocacy" of homosexuality, professors are hesitant to discuss the issue because they could be vulnerable to repercussions if they don't discuss homosexuality in a negative way.

"This creates a slippery slope for teachers ... what is to stop a student from turning in a teacher for 'advocacy' if the teacher talks about homosexuality and the student does not agree with the 'tone' of the lecture?" Van Hoeven said.

While Hope administrators have said its stance is based on its Christian background and foundation, McCarthy said it is her Christian upbringing that leads her to seek change.

"I feel as a Christian I can't stand by and allow this to happen. That's how I was raised," McCarthy said. "There are so many who are loud about making LGBT people feel so unwelcome, but I want us to be louder in saying you are welcome and appreciated. I want this to go national."

Emily West, one of the founders of Hope is Ready and an organizer for Holland is Ready, praised McCarthy for her courage and said she will not be alone in her efforts. West said McCarthy already has a "sea of support" from supportive students, faculty, staff, community members, alumni, Reformed clergy persons and others.

"That's who is behind this movement. It was true when I was working with Hope is Ready and it is true today," West said.

"What is sad, and somewhat embarrassing, is that when this amazing group of people comes together, sharing their time and talent to try and make Hope a more welcoming and safe place, they are demonized, being named 'enemies of the college,' or 'outside forces.' The reality is that this is a passionate, faithful group of people who love the college and see a great opportunity for growth and continued excellence.

"It is not one person, or even one group of people, it is a movement, an idea, something that will continue to emerge through different people, as we have seen over the past 30 years at Hope. Love and freedom are persistent!"

Want to help?

Those wanting to sign the petition started by Hope College freshman Bridget McCarthy can do so by going to: http://www.change.org/petitions/president-hope-college-amend-the-official-statement-on-human-sexuality-to-recognize-lgbtq-groups

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