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Graduating students hand school president rainbow flags in protest of anti-LGBTQ staff policies

University students at a private Christian college are part of a sit-in outside of the interim president's office that has lasted for three weeks.
/ Source: TODAY

As graduating seniors at Seattle Pacific University walked across the stage on Sunday, some of them handed rainbow flags to the school's president instead of shaking his hand. The move was a protest of the school's policies for LGBTQ staff.

In a viral video of the graduation ceremony, members of the class can be seen receiving their diplomas from the school’s interim president and handing him the rainbow flags.

The exchanges were a show of protest, one of many students of SPU have carried out throughout the school year and in recent weeks. Less than a month ago, students staged a sit-in in response to a decision by the school’s Board of Trustees to uphold a policy that prevents employees from taking part in same-sex relationships. 

The school’s “Employee Lifestyle Expectations” policy bans “sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the University’s understanding of Biblical standards.” Full-time employees can face discipline and termination if they don’t abstain from “cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity and same-sex sexual activity,” the policy says.

“What we did was we chose to give our president (Dr. Pete Menjares) the flags instead of shaking his hand because many of us are really upset with the current discriminatory lifestyle expectations that are being upheld by our university,” Laur Lugos the class’s student body president told TODAY. The last day of her term was this past Sunday, the day of graduation.

In a statement issued to TODAY, Menjares said, “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.”

For four years, Lugos attended the private Seattle-based university. Upon applying, Lugos says that she knew the school, founded in conjunction with the Free Methodist Church, was a Christian school. Still, she told TODAY that she was compelled to apply and attend the university because it falsely sold her on its messages of diversity and inclusivity.

“I think that one of the most important things to note about our university, in particular, is that there was this big push to bring a diverse community (to the campus),” she explained. “So what we have is an increasingly diverse student body but a university that does not support us (thought) the marketing that used to bring us into applying and then coming to this university is not actually reflective of the policies that are present on campus.”

According to a May 23 statement regarding the decision issued by Board Chair Cedric Davis, the decision to uphold the policy means that “SPU’s employee conduct expectations continue to reflect a traditional view on Biblical marriage and sexuality, as an expression of long-held church teaching and biblical interpretation.”

Chloe Guillot is a member of SPU’s Class of 2022 and extended both a flag and message to Menjares when it was her time to cross the stage. “I told him that we’re not going to stop until the policy changes,” she told TODAY, adding that around 40 to 50 graduates had participated in the flag protest.

She told NBC News that they initially planned to hand Menjares rainbow erasers but their order never arrived.

“I thought, OK, nothing’s going to happen. And then I showed up and was waiting in this little back room to line up for commencement, and someone came in and handed me like 20 Pride flags,” Guillot told NBC News. “We started passing it out to students ... It was kind of first come, first serve. They were gone very quickly, and if we would have been able to get more there would have been more participation.”

She told TODAY that in the past, the school has resolved issues by waiting for seniors to graduate.

“The faculty and staff want to see this policy change. The students want to see it change,” Guillot said. “We’ve reached the point where I think everybody realizes that just waiting year to year for something to happen is not going to work.”

While Guillot will no longer be an undergraduate, she is returning to campus in the fall for a master’s degree in theology and plans to continue carrying the torch.

“I’m a theology major. I’m a lifelong Christian. It’s really important to me that people understand that Christianity is not inherently this religion that is supposed to be hateful and exclusive. And it’s not supposed to be something that’s weaponized to keep people out. The God that I believe in would be right there protesting with us.”