At Pepperdine University, a private institution affiliated with Churches of Christ in Malibu, California, university administrators have refused to officially recognize the school’s only LGBT club, Reach OUT. The administration has claimed that the messages sent by Reach OUT, which functions similarly to a Gay-Straight Alliance, conflict with university policy on sexual activity, despite the explicit statement within the club’s constitution saying it does not support sexual activity. This decision has caused great upset among students, as many feel that Reach OUT creates a safe space for LGBT students and greatly improves their experience at Pepperdine. Without official recognition, the club cannot meet in university classrooms, cannot host club events on campus, and has no access to the activity fees that students are required to pay to support student clubs.
Reach OUT members have started a petition on Change.org in hopes of persuading university officials to reconsider the issue. The petition letter argues that Reach OUT is in compliance with the university’s policy, saying, “We reflect President Andrew K. Benton’s hope, expressed in his 2001 statement Envisioning a Bold Future, that Pepperdine will become a “clear reflection of the communities we serve” by creating a safe space where LGBT and straight students can share their experiences with others who have walked the same journey. We strive to meet all students where they are, whether they come from traditional backgrounds or otherwise, so that they feel at home in Pepperdine’s community.” The petition has garnered nearly 5000 signatures.
The struggles faced by Pepperdine students over LGBT representation are not new. Similar issues have recently been raised in other religiously affiliated colleges around the country. In 2010, the Southern Baptist-affiliated Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, initially denied endorsement of a student club promoting open discussions about Christian faith and sexual orientation. The university later changed its policy and granted the club official status last year. At Abilene Christian University in Texas, which is also associated with the Churches of Christ, attempts by students to form a Gay-Straight Alliance were denied by the administration. These discriminatory policies at various universities have undoubtedly had a negative impact on the experiences of their LGBT-identified students.
GLAAD urges everyone to take the time to show their support for the official recognition of Reach OUT by Pepperdine University, and encourages LGBT students to continue making their voices heard in an effort to create safe and welcoming environments for all students.