An Alabama university is facing criticism from a large contingent of alumni after the school decided to stall plans on supporting the formation of an LGBT rights group.
This April, Samford University faculty voted to recommend approval of “Samford Together,” a student-led organization dedicated to providing “a forum for SU students who want to discuss topics relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.”
While the idea of the group gained support across campus, it found opposition in the Alabama Baptist State Convention, a longtime donor of the school. Baptist leaders threatened to pull the convention’s annual $3 million donation if the school didn’t flat out reject the organization.
Despite these threats, the university’s Board of Trustees ultimately decided not to accept the budget allocation, a somewhat controversial move given that Samford was originally founded by Alabama Baptists.
“I believe the action taken by our trustees is something that both parties have been anticipating for some time and will serve the best interests of both Samford and the Alabama Baptist State Convention,” said Samford President Andrew Westmoreland. “Our longstanding educational and ministry relationships with Alabama Baptists have always been more significant than money, and these relationships will continue and flourish.”
Though the decision seemed to signify the university’s allegiance to its LGBT community, Westmoreland later announced that he would not be giving approval for the formation of Samford Together.
“I respect and appreciate the students who’ve sought to achieve recognition for Samford Together, and I will lead Samford in the years ahead to have exactly the conversations that they’ve asked us to have,” the president said in a statement. “But I’ve also recognized that the group itself has become such a polarizing matter within the Samford community that it will be better to have the conversations without extending official recognition.”
The announcement has angered LGBT alumni, who have criticized Westmoreland for covering his rejection of the group with the larger story about not accepting money from the Alabama Baptist Convention.
“It was a spin, a very well executed one,” said Brit Blalock, who’s leading a group of more than 700 Samford alumni in opposition to the president’s decision. “I feel that Dr. Westmoreland does have good intentions toward these students, but he’s fence-sitting in a way that will be detrimental to them. He’s not willing to say yes or no to them.”
Blalock’s biggest fear, though, is that by not allowing an LGBT group to guide the discussions Westmoreland promises to have around sexual identity, he’ll inadvertently create a space for non-supportive students.
“That will ultimately hurt these students, not help them,” she explained. They wanted to help people learn more about LGBT issues.”
“There are core university values such as freedom of inquiry that are being violated here. If you keep telling these students no, they can’t have recognition, it’s telling them they’re unequal in the eyes of the university.”