Following the discernment of Fresno Pacific University’s Board of Trustees, President Jones decided to deny the request for an LGBTQ+ Pride Club on campus.
On October 26th, 2021, President Joseph Jones, Ph.D. announced that he has chosen to deny the request for establishing an LGBTQ+ Pride Club on Fresno Pacific University’s campus.
President Jones, regarding his decision to the LGBTQ+ Pride Club, conveyed the decision’s reasoning in a school-wide email.
“In doing so, the board affirms its policy on Marriage, Singleness and Family in the USMB Confession of Faith,” Jones said.
Fresno Pacific University is governed by the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (USMB). More specifically, Fresno Pacific is governed by the Pacific District Conference, through FPU’s Board of Trustees. Fresno Pacific has adapted its Confession of Faith from the USMB.
On October 23rd, 2021, Fresno Pacific’s Board of Trustees communicated to President Jones that the approval of an LGBTQ+ Pride Club would not align with the USMB Confession of Faith. Because the university’s policies are structured from FPU’s Confession of Faith, Fresno Pacific University was granted a Title IX exemption in 2015. The Title IX exemption allows the university to act and make decisions in accordance with its religious beliefs.
Following President Jones’s decision to not allow an LGBTQ+ Pride Club, Justin St. George expressed his feelings about the decision.
“I personally feel upset about the board’s decision, and I don’t think their decision represents what the community wants. I don’t think student safety should be questioned like this. It’s obvious that given that FPU, as a Title IX exempt school, they can openly discriminate against LGBTQ+ students. And so there is a need for a safe space like this on campus,” St. George said.
Regarding his decision, President Jones made the following statement in his announcement.
“…the university name a ‘safe space person’ to whom students can speak confidentially, to seek support and understanding regarding various matters pertaining to sexuality. The Campus Life team has served in this capacity and efforts will be made to more intentionally communicate the designated person(s),” Jones said.
Justin St. George was asked about the above statement.
“If this school was open, to creating any type of support for LGBTQ+ individuals, they would have not allowed this to happen in the first place. And second, if they do want a representative like that on campus, they need to have experience and background on LGBTQ+ issues,” St. George said.
Justin St. George has also expressed that despite President Jones’s decision to deny the request for an LGBTQ+ Pride Club on campus, St. George will continue the club’s mission with the support of faculty allies and a Central Valley faith coalition.
The President’s decision regarding the LGBTQ+ Pride Club comes from a multi-month pursuit of several Fresno Pacific students to start the university’s first recognized LGBTQ+ Pride Club. Justin St. George, a senior business student and the LGBTQ+ Pride Club’s prospective president, filed the necessary club paperwork to establish the LGBTQ+ Pride club on campus. The club paperwork was completed before the August deadline with more than the required 30+ signatures in support of starting the club. Student Body President and Student Representative to FPU’s Board of Trustees, Veronica Mendez-Garcia, was the first to be made aware of St. George’s efforts at this time.
In an interview with the Syrinx, Student Body President Mendez described the LGBTQ+ Pride Club’s approval process as ordinary until after FPU’s Student Government Association (SGA) approved the club and passed the approval to the university’s Student Life administration. The LGBTQ+ Pride Club’s approval was halted at this point until the Fresno Pacific Board of Trustees’s meeting held on October 23rd, 2021.
When members of SGA asked the school’s administration about the LGBTQ+ Pride Club’s approval process, Student Body President Mendez explained her understanding of the administration’s response.
“I think we were getting responses of, you know, ‘we have to take a little longer for this because we have to make sure that it’s not conflicting or in tension with FPU values…’”, and, “But actually, this intervention of the administration actually going into club matters hasn’t happened in at least ten years,” Mendez said.
During the LGBTQ+ Pride Club’s extended approval process, to gauge support of the club from the larger Fresno Pacific University community, Justin St. George started a petition on October 9th, 2021. The petition has gathered 1,204 signatures to date. Additionally, Faithful America, a multi-denominational Christian 501(c)4 not-for-profit organization, also started a petition favoring the club. Faithful America’s petition has reached 7,527 signatures to date.
Community support for the club has not been limited to petitions. Members of Fresno Pacific’s faculty, SGA, and student body have posted on the Wittenburg Door. One faculty member who posted on the Wittenburg Door includes Professor Pamela Johnston, Ph.D. In addition to posting, Professor Johnston had also agreed to be the faculty advisor for the LGBTQ+ Pride Club.
Professor Johnston expressed her affirmation of the LGBTQ+ Pride Club with the Syrinx.
“As a Christian, I feel strongly that our mandate is to see the face of Christ in everyone that we interact with. As a Christian, I believe that we are tasked to show God’s love to everyone. I also believe that God does not care whether or not we are straight or gay. And as Episcopalians, we reaffirm our baptismal covenant to see the face of Christ in everyone on a regular basis. And so it would be against my faith, not to support our LGBTQ+ students,” Johnston said.
Professor Johnston’s affirmation of the LGBTQ+ Pride Club’s mission through faith is not alone. Before FPU’s Board of Trustees meeting on October 23rd, 2021, a group of seventeen Central Valley Christian leaders penned a letter to Joshua Wilson, Fresno Pacific University’s Board Chair, urging FPU’s Board of Trustees to approve the LGBTQ+ Pride Club.
In the letter, the seventeen Central Valley Christian leaders voiced their support for the LGBTQ+ Pride Club.
“This letter is written by your brothers and sisters in the faith who admit to a history of failing to show Christian love to the LGBTQ+ community. Our statement is not written as those who have arrived at the destination of Christ-like hospitality, but as those who are still on the journey towards it. We invite you to join us on this journey,” Central Valley Christian leaders said.
Justin St. George commented on the Central Valley faith coalition.
“They’re more than willing to not only host us, but some of them have even voiced support to be financial sponsors for our organization. So, although the school will not affirm or recognize our club, we feel that this safe space and resources still need to be available to LGBTQ+ students and allies in the FPU community one way or another,” St. George said.
As of the publication of this article, Justin St. George has started an Instagram page for an LGBTQ+ Pride Club serving the Fresno Pacific University community.
This is the second in a series of articles covering Fresno Pacific’s Title IX policy and the LGBTQ+ Pride Club’s attempt to be recognized by Fresno Pacific University. The next article in the series will be focusing on the progression of the LGBTQ+ Pride Club serving the Fresno Pacific University community.
If you have any inquiries regarding an LGBTQ+ Pride Club on Fresno Pacific University’s campus, you can leave feedback to Fresno Pacific’s Student Government Association (SGA) here.
To follow the LGBTQ+ Pride Club serving the Fresno Pacific University community, readers can follow @birdsforpride on Instagram.
If you wish to submit a letter to the editor to share your thoughts on the matters discussed in this article, please submit your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the university’s Title IX exemption, refer to The Syrinx’s article, “Full Disclosure: FPU’s Title IX Exemption.”
Author: Alyssa Steubner | Executive News Editor
Graphic by: Alyssa Steubner