Belmont administration to gay student group: Not here

Friday, December 3, 2010 at 1:08pm

For gay and lesbian students at Christian-based Belmont University, the dismissal this week of soccer coach Lisa Howe after she revealed she and her same-sex partner are planning for motherhood might be a chiller. But a greater challenge exists for those who are leading the effort to get official university recognition of a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

For roughly a year, students in an LGBT group and their straight classmates have pushed Belmont officials for status as a recognized student organization — and twice they’ve been rejected. Now the students, who work under the name Bridge Builders and have about 1,000 student signatures on a petition of support, are pointing to the early January arrival of incoming university provost Thomas Burns as a moment of truth.

“The new provost is very important,” said Robbie Maris, Bridge Builders president and a junior majoring in music business. “The provost is in the last line of decision-making in approving student organizations.”

Despite meeting with what Maris characterized as “little to no resistance” from the greater student population, the group has twice been rebuffed by the administration. In March, former interim provost Marcia McDonald rejected Bridge Builders’ request for official status. After the school’s Division of Student Affairs rejected the group’s second attempt in September, associate provost and dean of students Andrew Johnston was quoted by the Belmont Vision, the student newspaper, calling the LGBT group “potentially provocative or even divisive.”

The group meets informally on campus twice a month and averages about 15 attendees. A Bridge Builders Facebook page has more than 270 members, and the group’s effort has drawn national attention from, a gay rights website.

Pushed for comment, Johnston said in a statement that the university is “committed to the safety and well-being” of its students.

“Recognizing the importance of mutual respect and diverse opinions from Christian perspectives and the challenges of cultivating such in formal dialog on these issues, the university chose not to meet their request but to create a university-led opportunity for this discussion,” Johnston said. “Beginning last spring, a university-sponsored discussion group [which is called Difficult Dialogue and is not connected to Bridge Builders] on these issues has convened twice monthly and expects to continue for the duration of this academic year.”

Through a representative, Johnston declined to speak to The City Paper on the specifics of the Bridge Builders request. The Belmont Vision has quoted him as saying he does not want the issue “to be something that’s divisive to our university community.”

Maris called Johnston’s comments “extremely offensive.”

Incoming provost Burns, who is finishing his stay at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, did not respond to a request for comment. Millersville is a public liberal arts institution.

Maris said that if the Belmont administration remains opposed to the Bridge Builders’ effort, a peaceful protest could be in the works.

“There very well could be a protest, depending on how much resistance we receive from the administration,” Maris said. “We’re hoping we don’t have to go there and would do so respectfully.”

In addition, Maris said there might be contingency plans if the group’s push for official recognition is nixed. “There is more than one avenue, including [being part of] a ‘diversity group’ or going at it through a department like a sociology club,” he said.

Since breaking its affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2007, Belmont has undertaken a mission to raise its status among private liberal arts universities. Part of that has been a continuing push to brand itself as a diverse and open campus. The school’s “Vision 2015” focuses largely on enrollment, program and donation increases. But it also includes a “diversity” element. Belmont officials have been silent regarding how that relates to sexual orientation and religion.

If Bridge Builders eventually succeeds, it would become the first of its kind among Nashville’s four-year liberal arts colleges with religious affiliations. Aquinas College, Lipscomb University and Trevecca Nazarene University do not have formal LGBT student groups and likely have not seen attempts to create such groups in the past, according to officials at those schools.

Becca Stone, a Belmont senior majoring in Christian ethics, is a member of the Bridge Builders Facebook group. She is uncertain whether Burns’ arrival will have much effect on the group’s effort.

Stone said Belmont president Bob Fisher and the university’s board of trustees are rigid in their opposition to Bridge Builders being a sanctioned student group.

“It's saddening to me that the president of this university — who I believe is a genuinely kind man interested in the well-being of the students — cannot look past his own personal agenda and/or beliefs to see what the student body is asking for,” Stone said. “He, like most of the white, privileged student body — myself included — has not felt the pain of being constantly in the minority and being pointed out as different.

“We are not asking for a gay pride parade or rampant gay sex on campus,” she added.

Still, at historically socially conservative and Christian-oriented Belmont, even a student group with an “LGBT” tag might be too much for the school’s most powerful to stomach. Maris said he realizes Burns — even if he wanted to recognize Bridge Builders — might not be able to win support from Fisher or the board of trustees. Still, he wants to plant seeds for the future.

“I’m hoping to talk to [Burns] and see what he says personally,” Maris said. “It will be the first thing on my 2011 to-do list.” 


9 Comments on this post:

By: LizzyD on 12/3/10 at 7:41

Belmont will either be a University OR a "church school." Time to decide. Firing the very popular and successful soccer coach is not a real good omen.

By: GUARDIAN on 12/6/10 at 8:37

GUARDIAN-Bridge Builders my axx. Some bridges shouldn't be built or if they have been should be burnt down. Why should so few control so many with the use of bigot or change. I wouldn't want my children or grand children around the sick evil misfits no matter what they call me. Belmont should tell them to find another school if they want to be another Barney Frank or Rosey Odonal. I think don't ask don't tell should be expanded to civilian life and that's a fact.

By: gdiafante on 12/6/10 at 8:40

"Rosey Odonal"


By: pswindle on 12/6/10 at 9:12

Where has our freeedoms gone? It looks like one has to live by the narrow-minded Baptist Church. But, I can't blame it all on the Baptist, the Church of Christ is right up there with the Baptists.

By: PKVol on 12/6/10 at 10:18

Where should the line be drawn? What other sinful acts should be recognized through a student group? This is further evidence of the 'tolerance' that was taught in the public schools for the past two decades has changed the mindset of those who were taught and now those students know what is best for them.

What is sin, has always been sin, and will still be sin forever. No amount of cultural tolerance will change that fact. While it is true that a lot of what was considered sin or was derided as sin was wrongly considered sin, but on the issue of homosexuality, there is no debate that it is sinful.

People are born with a sin nature and will do what they can to justify their actions as non-sin in order to condone their actions. God doesn't condone sin, He hates sin and will punish those who justify sin and mock Him in doing so.

Instead of creating a student group that condones a particular sin, why not create a group that acknowledges the sinful act and strives to be free from its bondage and moral degradation of trying to condone it?

By: RTungsten on 12/6/10 at 3:30

Curious why William Williams is heading up all these Belmont stories. Is he a member of "Bridge Builders" perhaps?

By: xhexx on 12/6/10 at 7:41

Belmont needs an addendum on their application, Queers need not apply.

By: wataboutbob on 12/7/10 at 8:34

The want official university recognition of a group who's sole purpose is to express their sexual orientation?!? Would they support a group called HMWLBB? (Heterosexual Men Who Like Big Boobs)

By: Cold Floridian on 12/9/10 at 7:08

It looks like Belmont is going to have to face modern times now in order to keep up their populace and money for the school and you can't do that by being narrow minded and religious freaks are just that...

it's time we start integrating human policy over bigotry.
and it's time we clean up the religious freaks bedrooms.....
I'm sick and tired of them peeping in my window to see if i am praying or having sex.

come on Belmont.. it's time for you to get with the American program and learn tolerance.. After all, God created homosexuals... Live with it! They are not mistakes, they are gifts to human kind to continuously reiterate that God loves all humans and it's time for the religious freaks to start loving their neighbors! After all, homosexuals are not going away. Someday, we just may have a Gay Prez....
Then what will the religious freaks do, go to Haiti?

They could sure use some love and help there!
Get over your racism/prejudices... God is frowning down you!

Think before you post. You could be displaying your ignorance.....