SPU students file lawsuit against Board of Trustees over anti-LGBTQ hiring policy

A student coalition on Monday announced they have filed a lawsuit against Seattle Pacific University's Board of Trustees, alleging an anti-LGBTQ hiring policy and "flagrant disregard" for LGBTQ students.

The coalition filed the suit against six members of the Board: Matthew Whitehead, Mark Mason, interim president Pete Menjares, Dean Kato, Mike Quinn, and former trustee Michael Mckee. They claim the Board members orchestrated "bad faith efforts" to maintain discriminatory policies.

The 16 plaintiffs say the trustees’ stance – widely opposed on campus – is a breach of their fiduciary duties that threatens to harm SPU’s reputation, worsen enrollment difficulties and possibly jeopardize its future.

"[The Board members] not only breached their fiduciary duties to SPU and its people, they perpetuated a dangerous form of white Christian supremacy that threatens the safety and dignity of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC students and employees," said attorney Paul Southwick.

Their complaints largely stem from a May 2022 vote passed by the Board, which they say prevents the university from hiring LGBTQ people who openly express their sexual orientation and gender identity.

An 80% supermajority of SPU faculty had already voted in favor of axing the policy, but it remained in place.

Students responded by staging an all-campus walk out, a 39-day sit-in outside the president's office, then a graduation protest.

The suit further claims that half of the Board's members—mainly Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)—have resigned in the last year and a half.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson opened a civil rights investigation into the university, which retaliated by filing a federal lawsuit to block it.

"SPU happily accepts queer students who give them tuition money, but when we would like to become a staff member, then SPU is quick to bring in these discriminatory hiring policies and conveniently use the Bible to call us sinful. When SPU recruited me, I was not informed that my identity is only tolerable when the university is still getting my money," said senior nursing student Reena Sidhu.


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"We who through our very existence challenge a white-dominated, weaponized version of Christianity—queer folks, people of color, of different abilities, genders, and cultures—we have always been here, and we have always belonged," said SPU alum and staff member Kristi Holt. "Our community is struggling within an insidious environment created by the exclusionary policy. SPU is in disarray: enrollment is suffering, donors are fleeing, staff turnover has skyrocketed, SPU’s reputation in the community is being diminished, and the students, staff, and faculty of SPU are experiencing unsafe and uncertain conditions."

The coalition says LGBTQ students have always faced an uphill battle, but recently have come "under increasing attack," citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow a Jewish university in New York City to continue banning an LGBTQ club on their campus.

They have also partnered with the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), which has a suit in progress in the Oregon federal court, challenging the U.S. Department of Education's use of federal funds at universities that discriminate against LGBTQ people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.