In a season of protests, about two dozen students and others marched through the campus of Concordia University in St. Paul on Friday on behalf of a sophomore who was ousted as a leader of a campus prayer group because she’s bisexual.
The march, complete with a bullhorn and protest signs, capped a week of events designed to rally support for Nikki Hagan, a 19-year-old biology major from Woodbury.
“We love it here,” the protesters chanted. “We love you, love us back!”
The campaign, under the banner #istandwithnikki, was arranged by a classmate, Marisa Tejeda, when she learned what happened after Hagan posted on Facebook that she was dating a woman. “I said, ‘Well, this is bigger than you,’ ” Tejeda said. “We really want stuff like this to stop happening.”
Tom Ries, the university president, said he regrets what happened to Hagan and supports some, though not all, of her supporters’ calls for change. He has declined to endorse one of the protesters’ central demands, to permit a gay support group on the Concordia campus, which is affiliated with the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod.
“We as a church-related school have a biblical view of sexuality,” said Ries, who is also a minister. “That’s still the position of the church even [with] the cultural changes that the society is going through. That doesn’t mean we don’t love and appreciate people who are in same-sex relationships.”
Hagan, who grew up Catholic, said she was one of the coordinators of a weekly prayer group known as 908 (named after a biblical passage and the time the group meets, at 9:08 p.m. Wednesdays). This fall, when she revealed her bisexuality on Facebook, she anticipated that it might stir a reaction. “I was fully expecting something,” she admitted.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, she said, the club’s president, a fellow student, sent an e-mail “saying that we needed to talk.” He asked if she knew the church’s stance on homosexuality, she said, and told her, “We are forced to have you resign from your position.”
Ries confirmed the chain of events, though he and Hagan both declined to publicly name the other student.
Ries said that he regrets “the way it went down” but that he was reluctant to reverse the decision by “presidential fiat.” He prefers, he said, to “facilitate that conversation” and find a way for all sides to come together and talk.
“Most of the time, people do a really good job of living well together, but from time to time we get these bumps in the road,” he said. “This is one of the bigger bumps we’ve had in five years.”
Ries said he’s already working on one change: adding sexual orientation to the school’s nondiscrimination policy.
Tejeda, who set up a website, cspstudent.wix.com/istandwithnikki, to call attention to Hagan’s case, says she hopes it will lead to a more gay-friendly campus. “We just want a safe place for queer students to come together,” she said.