(RNS) — Chloe Guillot had some parting words for Seattle Pacific University Interim President Pete Menjares as he handed her a diploma from the graduation stage: “We’re not going to stop.”
She also had something to give him in exchange for the diploma: a rainbow pride flag.
Guillot was among the graduating seniors of Seattle Pacific University — a Christian school associated with the Free Methodist Church — who went viral and made nationwide headlines for handing Menjares rainbow flags as they received their diplomas on Sunday. It was the most recent demonstration in the students’ ongoing protest over a policy prohibiting the hiring of LGBTQ people.
“It would feel weird to just go up there and pretend like everything was normal,” Guillot told Religion News Service. “We weren’t just going to do the whole pomp and circumstance and let this issue fade into the background.”
We hope that you’ll always remember us, Pete. And we also hope that you’ll change the policy so that we don’t have to sleep outside your office anymore.
The Class of 2022 pic.twitter.com/8hrBHeMCTd
— engaygetheculture (@SPUisGay) June 13, 2022
Since late May, Guillot and other students have staged a sit-in outside the president’s office in reaction to the board of trustees’ recent decision to uphold the hiring policy, which the students have described as homophobic and discriminatory.
School is now over, and Guillot said they’ll continue the sit-in until July 1, the deadline they gave the trustees to rescind the policy. If they don’t, the students are planning to sue the board. As of Friday, the students have raised more than $33,000 through GoFundMe to cover potential legal fees.
Guillot made it clear the suit will be against the board of trustees, not the university.
“It’s not about the university being homophobic because, ultimately, the university is not. The university has been kept back by this board of trustees,” Guillot said.
The board’s decision to retain the policy means the university’s expectation for employee conduct is that employees “continue to reflect a traditional view on Biblical marriage and sexuality, as an expression of long-held church teaching and biblical interpretation,” according to a statement from the board.
It upheld the policy in order for the university to “remain in communion” with the Free Methodist Church USA. Students, however, have said the Free Methodist Church has no day-to-day “impact on campus culture.” And the denomination does not contribute financially to the school.
In April 2021 the university’s faculty took a vote of no confidence in its board of trustees after members of the board declined to change the hiring policy. The no-confidence vote was approved by 72% of the faculty.
The Free Methodist Church formed in 1860 when it broke away from the larger Methodist Church over slavery. Free Methodists were abolitionists who also believed in women’s ordination. In the 20th century, the denomination became more conservative.
Guillot, who will be returning to Seattle Pacific for graduate school, said she and others who graduated will be involved with the lawsuit and other legal aspects of their cause. Undergraduate students will continue with campus activism, she said.
Guillot said they hope to raise more funds for their lawsuit after the newfound attention from the graduation demonstration. The pride flags, they reminded their new followers, “are part of a larger protest.” They also appealed to philanthropist MacKenzie Scott on Twitter for support.
“This has been our goal, to get so much attention on this issue,” she said.