Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

USM maintains stance on Gordon College

Posted on February 01, 2016 in Sports Feature
By USM Free Press

Nick Beauchesne

Last year was the first in decades that the University of Southern Maine did not face Gordon College in some form of athletic competition. This year and for years to come will be the same, so long as Gordon maintains its discriminatory stance concerning members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community.

A private, evangelical institution in the town of Wenham, Massachusetts, Gordon College’s code of conduct prohibits acts that do not conform to “practices governed by Scripture.” Outlined on the Gordon College website, gordon.edu, is a set of behavioral standards that both students and faculty are expected to abide by. The first section identifies certain acts, “including, but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty…sexual relations outside of marriage, and homosexual practice,” that, it says, “will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.”

In the summer of 2014, Gordon College president Michael Lindsay was one of fourteen that signed a letter, addressed to the White House, seeking exemption on religious grounds concerning an Executive Order that banned federal employees (universities included) from discriminating against current and prospective employees based on their sexual orientation. In other words, the college sought permission to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals without federal funds being taken away in response.

As a result of this letter, former USM president David Flanagan, with consultation from various other members of the school community both inside athletics and beyond, decided that Gordon College’s stance on this issue was diametrically opposed to that of the USM community, an institution that prides itself on both inclusion and equality. In coming to that conclusion, it was decided that USM would immediately suspend competition against Gordon College for the academic year 2014-2015 and would readdress the issue during the 2015-2016 year.

“We had discussed the matter in depth when the announcement by Gordon College first took place in the summer of 2014. It was, administratively, not without its challenges,” said Univeristy of Southern Maine athletic director Al Beane. “We had regular season contests scheduled against Gordon for that fall, and cancelling competition on such short notice has its own issues. In the end, though, we knew that we were making the right decision.”

Since then, Gordon College’s position has remained the same. President Lindsay has since spoken out about initiatives at his college to prevent harassment of LGBTQ students and faculty, yet the institution maintains its stance prohibiting “homosexual practice” and still seeks the exemption.

While Gordon’s leadership has gone unchanged since the summer of 2014, there was some degree of uncertainty concerning USM’s position, with Flanagan being replaced by President Glenn Cummings this year. That uncertainty, though, did not last long.

“In speaking with some of our students, particularly those within the LGBTQ community, there is the feeling that, without taking the stance that we have, we would be implicitly accepting the position of Gordon College,” President Cummings said.

That sentiment influenced the decision made by Cummings to seek input from the USM athletic department, under the leadership of Beane. The athletic department organized a collection of administrators, coaches, and student athletes to form a “task force,” whose job it was to convene on the matter and report back to the president.

“The task force was composed of twelve individuals that came together and shared their thoughts and concerns on the matter,” said Beane.

The group consensus, according to Beane, was overwhelming in its support for those members of the USM community that identify as LGBTQ. The task force, having compiled its collective decision, then reported back to President Cummings with its findings.

In a letter addressed to Gordon College President Lindsay, and later shared to the USM student-body and faculty, Cummings articulated the findings of the task force, as well as the official position of USM:

“Their (the task force’s) strong recommendation is that we continue the decision of last year to suspend our participation with Gordon College in regular season sporting events,” Cummings said in the letter.

This decision, now made, will not be one that is readdressed on a year to year basis, though it has been for the past two years since Lindsay first signed the letter to President Obama requesting the religious exemption. When asked about whether USM’s decision is one that will continue beyond this school year, Cummings was unequivocal:

“Our position will remain intact and hold for so long as Gordon College maintains its position in terms of discrimination against any minority groups on its campus.”