Taboo Turmoil

While most students were squeezing the final drops out of their winter breaks, the Rainbow Alliance was taking action against homophobia. A national campus ministry conference entitled “Taboo” was in session from January 5th to the 7th. The conference was hosted by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and was called to discuss issues of homosexuality and definitions of marriage. On the final day of the conference, the Rainbow Alliance set up a table to present opposing viewpoints to the ones offered at the conference and to represent LGBT students and people.

SLU did not contact Rainbow Alliance about Taboo coming onto our campus. Instead, the Rainbow Alliance organization was contacted by a Lutheran pastor that disagreed with the messages represented by this conference and by the church sponsoring it. The pastor felt that the “Taboo” presentations were sexist, xenophobic, transphobic, and homophobic.

Rainbow members researched the conference and decided they were in agreement with the pastor’s assessment. The conference’s website profiles anti-LGBT speakers such as the Rev. Tom Eckstein, who wrote Bearing Their Burden: Speaking the Truth in Love to People Burdened by Homosexuality, a book that condemns homosexuality even in a long-standing, monogamous setting, and “gay conversion success story” Scott Barefoot, who had “embraced the gay lifestyle but climbed back out of it by the grace of God.” Quotes are from a conference handout.

As well as being blatantly against LGBT rights, the conference also featured meetings on gender roles that were sexist and anti-feminist, and meetings on how to convert foreign students and discredit the religions of others. The presence of this group on our school’s campus violated the oath of inclusion and the Jesuit mission of this university.

At their table positioned at the entrance to the BSC, SLU’s Rainbow Alliance offered pro-LGBT information and a message of acceptance. Members of the group were available for discussion with those attending the conference.

Yelyzaveta DiStefano said of the discussions, “I was shocked by how many people just stared straight ahead and refused to acknowledge us. That being said, the few interactions we did have with conference goers were way more genuine and in-depth than I expected.” DiStefano recalls no more than ten members of the conference engaging in the discussion; however, those that stayed continued to converse with Rainbow members over the course of several hours.

“There were some pretty antiquated and offensive beliefs held by some of them, but overall I appreciated their kindness and respect.,” said Kolin Clark, another Rainbow member.  Clark felt as if the attendees that came to speak with the Rainbow members were more interested “in an opportunity to learn about queer issues, rather than combat our beliefs.”

While a majority of Rainbow members believed that the discussions went reasonably well, others felt that there were still plenty of attendees that were more interested in arguing.

One Rainbow Alliance member was asked that if he felt all love was equal, and therefore condoned pedophilia or incest. Others were asked, if someone can identify as being a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, could they also claim they are black when they were born white.

One woman thanked the Rainbow members for not “throwing things at them,” a statement that struck the students as simply bizarre.

“I was extremely angered by (her) response,” said DiStafano of the encounter. “It was a weird moment and I didn’t understand why or how she had come under the assumption that people from the LGBTQA community and supporters of it would be violent in their reaction. [I]t felt like she was reducing us to only being able to have an immature and thoughtless reaction. I really didn’t understand why she made that joke, or whatever it was, to us, except to make sure we really didn’t have that planned after all.”

Landon Brownfield, a member and leader in the Rainbow Alliance, contacted Dr. Porterfield with a list of demands to be met by the university. These included, a public apology for inviting a group with ideologies that do not agree with the Jesuit mission, disciplinary action against whoever was responsible for allowing this group to besmirch our university, a task force headed by President Pestello to oversee future groups and speakers coming onto campus, SafeZone training for all Event Services staff, and that all of the proceeds (each attendee paid approximately $190) go to fund an event to promote inclusion, diversity, and equality on SLU’s campus.

In the wake of the recent suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgendered teenager in Ohio, an event based around inclusion and acceptance would be more than welcome.