Campus organization loses funding, student leader over sexuality dispute
Published: Monday, October 31, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 08:11
Elizabeth Gutheim-Bryant considered herself very religious.
Bryant, a junior, was the president of her high school Christian organization and led her church youth groups every Sunday. She said she was proud of her religion, and wasn't afraid to let people know it. She is majoring in religious studies and psychology and joined a Christian student organization as soon as she came to campus.
She is also bisexual.
Proving the two aren't mutually exclusive has been a more daunting task than expected, she said. It resulted in the stripping of $3,824.48 in funds from the student organization she once considered her family.
Bryant said she joined Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship after enrolling as a freshman, not knowing anyone on campus.
"Everyone was so welcoming," she said. "When I came here as a freshman, I became friends with all of them."
Yet, the friendships didn't last when she came out as a bisexual to the leaders of the group this September, she said.
After being sent to the organization's pastor, Rev. Chris Kennedy, Bryant was told she was no longer fit to serve as a leader because of her sexuality.
"I got lectured for an hour about how I should pray to God to change my heart," Bryant said. "Sitting there and having someone tell me the way I believe God made me is a sin, that really hurts."
Kennedy, who said to The Oracle that he did not wish to comment on the issue, wrote an email to Bryant explaining why she had been deemed unfit to serve as a leader.
"From our perspective, homosexuality is clearly a sin," he wrote. "Although none of us is without sin, the attitude of participating in sinful activity willingly and unrepentantly is the issue. It would be no different if a heterosexual student leader were sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend. As a Christian ministry, we do not allow people to be in leadership who are engaging in, or affirming as acceptable by God, behaviors such as fornication, adultery or homosexuality. All of these activities are clearly prohibited by God's Word (the Bible)."
Kennedy told Bryant she was welcome to attend public meetings, but that her "beliefs and behavior" were not in line with the organization.
Chi Alpha's constitution contains the non-discriminatory policy that all student organizations funded by student-paid Activity and Service (A&S) fees are required to adopt under Statute 802.1 of the Student Government (SG) Constitution.
It states the organization is "open and available to all students to attend and become members regardless of race, color, marital status, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age or sexual orientation."
Yet, when Bryant filed a grievance against the organization in September through SG, Chi Alpha president Nathan Rakes, who also declined to comment, argued that the organization was not in violation of its constitution.
Rakes said the constitution allows the organization to dismiss a leader who is in violation of its expectations.
"(Bryant) was fully aware of the expectations of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship in the fact that we are a Christian organization. Therefore, we rely and act in accordance with the Bible, which clearly states that homosexuality is a sin," he wrote in an email to SG. "As a leader, she failed in her responsibility to keep the commands of the Holy Scriptures (the Bible), which, therefore, let her be subject to removal according to our constitution."
Bryant, who said she's read the Bible multiple times, said the stance is a matter of interpretation.
"It's kind of sad," she said. "Christianity is supposed to be about love."
SG Senate President Khalid Hassouneh said SG, which last week withdrew Chi Alpha's funding for the remainder of the year, acted to uphold the laws of the SG constitution.
Hassouneh said that if Chi Alpha changed its stance on this issue, as well as two other violations against the organization for hiring a non-USF affiliated pastor with A&S funds, they would immediately be eligible to reapply for funding.
"Our interest is not to strip any organization of A&S funding or have any kind of negative ramification for any organization, but they are state funds that we're talking about," he said. "There are certain requirements that have to be followed. It really is the money of the students, and every student should have the right to access something they paid for."
Hassouneh said SG's anti-discriminatory policies mirror those of the University and the Florida Board of Governors.
"Sadly, some of this stuff is only found out after the fact, when a grievance is brought to our attention," he said. "It's very hard to actively monitor all 300 organizations that are A&S-funded."
Bryant said she didn't want to file a lawsuit. After leaving Chi Alpha, she said she has been looking for another group that won't judge her, though she is not in much of a hurry.
"I've backed off from the religion aspect a little bit because I don't like the politics involved," she said. "I believe I can still have a relationship with God without going to a church."