Seattle Pacific University graduates handed rainbow flags to the school’s interim president as he gave out their diplomas on Sunday to protest the school’s anti-LGBTQ policies.
The protest went viral on TikTok, raking in millions of views.
“It started just as a conversation among students that we didn’t really want to shake the president’s hand at graduation,” student and organizer Chloe Guillot told CNN. “So, we thought, what can we do instead of that? And the idea came up: Why don’t we hand out a pride flag?”
She said about 40 to 50 graduates participated in the organized action. Some declined to shake interim President Pete Menjares’ hand and passed him a flag instead.
Guillot said that after giving Menjares a pride flag Sunday, she told him, “We’re not going to stop until the policy changes.” She is planning to return to the university as a graduate student.
Menjares told NBC News in a statement that Sunday “was a wonderful day to celebrate with our graduates. Those who took the time to give me a flag showed me how they felt and I respect their view.”
Seattle Pacific University is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church USA. According to the school’s website, it is “permitted and reserves the right to prefer employees or prospective employees on the basis of religion” and expects its employees to refrain from certain conduct “described in the University’s Employee Lifestyle Expectations.”
Those expectations include refraining from “sexual behavior that is inconsistent with the University’s understanding of Biblical standards, including cohabitation, extramarital sexual activity, and same-sex sexual activity.”
SPU’s board of trustees decided last month to uphold that policy despite protests from the school’s students and faculty.
“The decision means SPU’s employee conduct expectations continue to reflect a traditional view on Biblical marriage and sexuality, as an expression of long-held church teaching and biblical interpretation,” the board said in a statement on May 23.
SPU students and alumni are also two weeks into a sit-in at the university to protest the policy. The university acknowledges on its website that it has LGBTQ+ students and insists it’s “committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion for all undergraduate and graduate students” despite its discriminatory policy for staff.
The graduating students’ protest coincided with Pride Month, an annual celebration and affirmation of LGBTQ+ communities around the world.