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LGBT Pride on Religious Campuses

As cities across the country celebrated this year with parades and festivities, the tragedy in Orlando is a stark reminder of the animosity against LGBT individuals that still exists. While the percentage of average Americans who support LGBT marriage has risen nearly 20 percent in the last 20 years, according to Gallup, between 20 and 25 percent of LGBT people experience hate crimes. Since marriage equality became law, communities, states and institutions alike have further encouraged the diversity and acceptance of LGBT individuals. 
For colleges and universities, this increase in LGBT acceptance has been largely embraced on campus, with support networks, resources and safe spaces becoming increasingly prevalent. For LGBT students and their allies who attend religious institutions, this rise in general social acceptance hasn't become as widespread or systematized on religious campuses. For student conduct officers (SCOs), the affiliation of your institution can greatly impact the inclusive nature toward LGBT students.
 
According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 47 percent of adults who oppose same-sex marriage cite religion and/or the bible as their reason for opposition. In this sense, it's somewhat unsurprising that Evangelical Christian and Catholic schools are prominently featured in the top 20 least-inclusive institutions for LGBT students.
 
Conversely, all of the top 25 schools for LGBT inclusion ranked by the Campus Pride Index are not currently religiously affiliated, with several having dropped their religious affiliations decades ago. Despite these trends, religious institutions can vary greatly in their views of how to support students while remaining aligned to their religious missions. In the fall of 2015, “two conservative Christian colleges, Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College, added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies,” unfortunately leading to both universities withdrawing from “the nation's most prominent membership organization of evangelical universities.”
 
While many religious institutions are actively addressing increased public support of LGBT rights, some colleges have explicit student conduct policies forbidding “same-sex sexual expression.” As an SCO, it's critical to understand the core values your university embodies, but you can still provide support for LGBT students you work with. Additionally, many Christian colleges are adjusting their administrative policies to allow for hiring LGBT faculty and staff, but some still forbid marriage for same-sex couples.
 
The concept that having a strong religious affiliation is not, however, always indicative of LGBT exclusion or adversity. An increasing number of Evangelical Christian Millennials believe that LGBT people should be accepted, giving rise to broader support of LGBT groups and resources on Christian campuses. As an example, Southern Methodist University openly celebrates their LGBT center and provides programming to break down barriers across campus and build a network of support. SCOs are in the unique position of needing to adhere to their university's conduct policies, but in some cases you may be able to encourage the development of more open, inclusive LGBT policies for your school.
 
If you find yourself in a position where there are growing numbers of students who openly support LGBT rights at your religiously affiliated institution, consider what measures you can take to build a stronger, more inclusive campus. Campus Pride has developed an online resource center to help students, faculty and staff start LGBT organizations, and organizations like the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals have additional best practices.
 
Over the next few months, ASCA's LGBT Community of Practice will continue to develop content to support SCOs on both religiously affiliated and agnostic campuses who are interested in building out their institution's LGBT resources. Please contact Dani Clark, danimclark@purdue.edu, chair of the LGBT Community of Practice with any comments, questions or if you're interested in getting involved.
 
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius at FreeDigitalPhotos.ne

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