More than 100 people protested the exit of Lisa Howe and Belmont University’s hiring policy related to sexual orientation Wednesday afternoon.
The demonstrators marched from the Beaman Student Life Center to outside the Inman Health Science Center on Wedgewood Avenue. The events, which included a march, protest and letter writing campaign, attracted a variety of people, including Belmont students, alumni, veterans and other members of the Nashville community.
The protest was a reaction to what many students believe is a disconnect between administration and the faculty and student body in regard to what seems to be the university’s reluctance to support gay students and employees.
“When I heard about this for the first time, it really upset me,” said sophomore Hilli Levin. “It was the first time I was ashamed of the university. It’s a really important issue and I’m glad it’s come to light at this time. Hopefully, this will serve to change the policies.”
The current policies lack clarification and the backing of most students and faculty, said senior Austin Sauerbrei, who believes Belmont’s standing as a Christian school should promote inclusion and diversity.
“As a progressive liberal arts institution, it’s ridiculous that we’re in 2010 and we’re still marginalizing the LGBT community,” he said. “I realize that this is a complex issue and there are no clear black and white solutions. But to many, our identity as Christian does not imply the rejection or marginalization of folks in the LGBT community.”
Students were confident the university would embrace their message of love when considering how to handle new policies.
“I hope that they’re going to open their eyes and see that this is something that we care about, not just as students, but as Christians. I hope this will let them be more accepting of everyone,” freshman Joel Roshweder said.
Sophomore Emily Guthrie agreed.
“I really want to show Christianity isn’t about discriminating people based on their sexual orientation or anything really,” she said. “It’s about love. I wanted to show my support for Coach Howe and for non-discrimination at Belmont
Belmont alumna Crystal Hooper came, she said, because she “thought it was important to come and let Belmont know today that this is not acceptable.”
Many see this issue turning into something beyond a Belmont or Nashville issue.
“I see this as a human issue,” said Crystal McKeever-Burgett, a Vanderbilt School of Divinity student. “I think that it’s important that we stand with our brothers and sisters.”
Chants advocating social justice and love were common throughout the afternoon. Demonstrators also had addresses and phone numbers of members of Belmont’s board of trustees, congressmen and news organizations for participants to contact.