Students protest Seattle Pacific University policies after discrimination lawsuit

SEATTLE — Frustration and anger from students and faculty members at Seattle Pacific University (SPU) on Friday. They want policies at the Christian school to change after a gay professor there says he was denied a full-time job because he is gay.

The professor has also filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit.

The event to support the LGBTQ community on campus brought out hundreds of people Friday night.

“We are coming together to share our anger, sadness, hurt, frustration, and exhaustion,” one student speaker said. “We are here because we want queer professors!” she said to a cheering crowd.

Jéaux Rinedahl says he was working as a part-time professor at SPU and was applying to a full-time position in the nursing program last summer.

“She called me, and she said, ‘We’re so excited, you’d be great, you’d be wonderful, we’re overjoyed,’” Rinedahl said, recalling a conversation he had with the assistant dean of the nursing program.

But then Rinedahl said he got a follow-up call where he was told he didn’t qualify.

“I’ll tell you word for word exactly what that conversation said because it was burned in my memory,” Rinedahl said. “She said, well, the problem is, you’re not heterosexual. And I just sort of froze at this point.”

Rinedahl filed a lawsuit. The complaint says SPU “illegally discriminated against him (Rinedahl) because of his sex and/or sexual orientation.”

The university responded to the complaint by denying this.

But the school does have policies on “human sexuality.”

A university spokesperson wrote in an email to KIRO7′s Deedee Sun on Friday, “Employees are asked to abide by conduct standards in the employee handbook, which hold traditional views of marriage between a man and woman.”

“They don’t have the right to judge me because my employer has no business in my bedroom. End of story right there,” Rinedahl said.

Rinedahl’s attorney says the school recently took a survey with students and staff on the school’s policies, and the community overwhelmingly urged the university to change.

But on Monday, the school’s board of trustees voted to keep its “human sexuality” conduct expectations.

It’s a move that brings deep pain to many at SPU.

“I feel like I have a black hole in my heart,” said another student speaking at the vigil event on Friday. “Even though I’m so angry with the decision that you made, somehow I’m still desperate for you to see me as a human. I love God, and I love myself. I am God’s child.”

Rinedahl says if the voices in the community can’t change the university, he hopes the lawsuit will.

“Because it’s time we understand Christianity is about loving and embracing. It’s not about division and separation and hatred and anger,” he said.

SPU does have a hiring preference based on religion, but Reindahl says he is Christian and believes he was denied the chance at the full-time job just because he is gay.

Both Washington state and the City of Seattle have laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, there are exceptions for certain religious roles, like if you are a minister or are teaching religion.

In response to the lawsuit, SPU said it believes it is exempt from the anti-discrimination law “because the University is a religious institution and its faculty members are ministers within the meaning of the ministerial exception.”

The trial is set for January 2022.