The University President Handed Students Diplomas, They Handed Him Back Pride Flags

SPU students handed Interim President Pete C. Menjares pride flags upon receipt of their diplomas. (screenshots Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic via SPUisGay)

Pride Month intersected with graduation season on the stage at the 2022 commencement for Seattle Pacific University (SPU), where graduating students staged a creative protest of the school’s ban on hiring LBGTQ+ staff. The ban was recently upheld by a vote from the board of directors in May. SPU is a private Christian university in Washington, and a statement released by the board following their vote stated that employees must “reflect a traditional view on Biblical marriage and sexuality.”

In a protest-performance during the June 12 graduation ceremony, organized by the campus group SPUisGay, students took the opportunity to hand off numerous pride flags to the university’s president upon receipt of their diplomas. Videos on the group’s Instagram show a tight-lipped SPU Interim President Pete C. Menjares, who had no choice but to accept the small rainbow-striped banners.

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“Happy graduation! We hope Dr. Menjares enjoyed our senior gift(s),” SPUisGay wrote in the caption of one video.

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, a spokesperson for SPU shared a statement from Menjares: “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 community members, including current students and alums, have been actively protesting the Board of Trustees’ decision to uphold discriminatory employment policies against the LGBTQ+ community. Following the board’s vote on May 23, students walked out of class to protest in front of the university president’s office. Chloe Guillot, one of the SPU student organizers, told NowThis that the students have been staging a sit-in outside the president’s office ever since, now 20 days and counting. They are also raising money to file a lawsuit against the board for breach of fiduciary duty. The decision to pursue legal action on the grounds of fiduciary neglect, rather than workplace discrimination, means they intend to prove that the board’s actions are not in the best interest of the organization.

“No matter what you believe, getting rid of these policies is the best way to make sure that our campus is an inclusive place for all people to be,” AJ Larsen, a 2020 graduate and member of SPU’s alumni coalition, told NPR. “Not only in the student body but in the faculty, staff and administration.”

As student body organizers like SPUisGay and ASSPProtest are proving, the SPU community is highly motivated to address the oppressive policies in their place of higher education, and there are many members of the Christian community who stand with them. And while, according to their statement, the board recognizes that there is “disagreement among faithful Christians” regarding sexuality and identity, perhaps this latest protest — or the forthcoming legal action — will drive the message home. Either way, those graduates walked with pride.


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