After two Supreme Court of Canada challenges, Trinity Western University (TWU) in B.C. has decided to drop its controversial community covenant for students. This contract calls on people to abstain from sex outside of heterosexual marriage and was at the centre of the recent Supreme Court case.
The court ruled in June that British Columbia and Ontario’s law societies can refuse accreditation based on TWU’s covenant, saying that the policy would cause significant harm and discourage LGBTQ+ students from attending its proposed law school.
The university’s board of governors recently voted to make the covenant optional for students to sign, citing their desire for an “inclusive” community of “all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy.”
This might seem like a huge victory for LGBTQ+ students and allies at the Christian university, and those wishing to attend. However, faculty, staff and administrators will still have to sign the covenant. This distinction raises many questions and concerns for me.
It would be naive to believe there are no faculty and staff who are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum or disagree with the pledge. This is challenging for those who have to stay silent or risk losing their jobs.
Also, it matters to see representation of and support for LGBTQ+ people in leadership positions. As a queer woman of colour, it has been important to see leaders who look like me and have similar lived experiences.
Who can queer, trans and non-binary students, who have limited representation and connection, turn to for support around their sexual orientation and gender identity?
One TWU, a community of LGBTQ+ students, alumni and allies at TWU, is a great resource. Faculty and leadership would also ideally provide support. However, what about staff or members of the administration who believe that being queer and trans are against Biblical teachings? Their beliefs and assumptions are ingrained in how they teach, support students and make policy.
How will the school create safer spaces for LGBTQ+ students to explore who they are without fear of judgment and shame?
It is also troubling that the president of TWU, Robert Kuhn, sent mixed messages in his statement about making the covenant optional for students. TWU claims it can remain a “biblically-based” university “fully committed to our foundational evangelical Christian principles… while simultaneously welcoming and affirming the unique value of each member of our diverse student body.”
How can it welcome and affirm each student when the covenant says that being queer and trans are not in line with its evangelical Christian principles? Why can’t TWU recognize how harmful this covenant is?
Those at the centre of this issue — queer and trans people — aren’t named in the statement, or even the covenant. This is an empty gesture. Without action, deep-rooted beliefs and biases won’t change.
What kinds of steps will TWU take following this move? Will there be mandatory workshops to understand the experiences of LGBTQ+ people and how to create affirming spaces on campus? Is TWU really standing for the “value of each member” or just hoping this change will allow them to have Canada’s first faith-based law school?
The entrenched homophobia and transphobia in Christian communities and the church run deep, without many people even realizing it. If the entire community isn’t engaged in this change — including recognizing the problems in the covenant itself — I don’t see how TWU can truly become a “welcoming” and “affirming” space for LGBTQ+ people.
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