SHAWNEE — Leaders of an advocacy organization that demonstrated at Oklahoma Baptist University said Wednesday morning that student response to the group's visit was largely friendly.
Soulforce, a group that promotes equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, held a silent vigil at OBU on Wednesday to protest what the group calls discriminatory campus policies. Members of the group also met privately with university officials Wednesday afternoon to discuss their concerns.
The event was a part of the group's Equality Ride, a nationwide bus tour that brings activists to college campuses with policies the group says discriminate against nonheterosexuals.
The group met in a parking lot at the corner of W MacArthur and N Kickapoo streets before heading to campus. Jason Conner, the group's co-director, said several students crossed the street to offer support.
Even before the demonstration began, about 20 students stopped to speak with group members, telling them that many students disagreed with the university's policy regarding homosexuality, Conner said.
OBU's student handbook, called the Green Book, lays out the university's policy regarding sexuality. It specifically prohibits extramarital sex and homosexuality, as well as rape, incest and pornography.
Marty O'Gwynn, OBU's associate vice president for university advancement, said the policy reflects what university officials see as biblical standards. The policy has been in place since the early 1980s, he said, and was revised in 2006 to include language outlining the policy's basis in scripture.
O'Gwynn emphasized that the policy isn't intended to target homosexuality specifically, but instead to discourage all sex outside of marriage. Failure to comply with the policy could result in disciplinary action, including expulsion from the university, O'Gwynn said, although such action is rarely taken. University officials don't take proactive measures to find policy violators, he said, but simply handle cases as they arise.
“We're not in a position of doing investigations into student or faculty or staff behavior,” he said.
Making a point
Wednesday's demonstration included a silent vigil, in which group members stood a few feet off university property, holding signs but saying little or nothing. The members' silence, Conner said, was a part of the point of the rally. It reflects the fact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students at OBU must keep silent about their identities, he said.
The group's visit to OBU was a part of a larger swing through Oklahoma that also included a panel discussion at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany on Monday. The discussion included members of the group, as well as Brad Strawn, SNU's vice president for spiritual development, and Tim Crutcher, a professor in the university's school of theology and ministry.