Opinion

Trinity Western University drops contentious covenant, but LGBTQ staff still face discrimination

Students at Trinity Western University will no longer have to sign an agreement promising to abstain from all sex outside of heterosexual marriage. But the university has not retracted the beliefs asserted in the document, writes a queer Trinity Western alum.

You can be taught while gay, but you can never teach, unless you remain abstinent from sex— or lie about it

The bell tower on campus at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

I was 18 years old when, as a freshman at Trinity Western University, I first signed its Community Covenant, which forbids students from engaging in sex outside of heterosexual marriage.

As the years passed, I found that decision harder and harder to justify. By the time I graduated, I wished that I could undo my signature.

The agreement, which all students, faculty and staff were required to sign, states this pledge aligns with traditional Christian values.

On Tuesday, the university announced that students will no longer have to sign the contentious document. The change does not apply to faculty or non-student staff.

Prior to university, I did not have much opportunity to explore my identity or beliefs. I was raised in a conservative home and a conservative church, and I did not know that I was queer.

I signed the covenant at a time when I agreed with it. But a lot happens between freshman year and graduation, and I never thought that coming out would be one of them.

Signing the agreement will no longer be mandatory for incoming students at Trinity Western University, but the "biblical values" described in the document continue to inform the Christian university's community and faith identity.

Contradictory signals

TWU President Bob Kuhn claims that the doctrines described in the covenant have not changed. Only now, students no longer have to agree to the requirement before they can enrol.

TWU continues to take the contradictory position that it can welcome LGBTQ students, while also maintaining that any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is contrary to its "biblical values."

Can Kuhn have his cake and eat it, too? At TWU, you can now practise your sexuality without being expelled, but the exemption doesn't apply to faculty or non-student employees.

OneTWU, the LGBTQ student support group and alumni network, can now meet without hiding, but it can not have an (openly) queer faculty advisor. You can be taught while gay, but you can never teach, unless you remain abstinent from sex — or lie about it.

TWU has not retracted the beliefs asserted in the covenant, nor has it issued a statement of apology for its discrimination against LGBTQ students. In fact, TWU has never acknowledged its discrimination against LGBTQ students, even though students have spoken negatively about their experiences in media outlets.

When the Community Covenant was still mandatory, people used to ask me why I went to a conservative Christian school if I did not agree with what it taught. The truth is, I chose TWU at a time when my values aligned with those described in the Community Covenant. I might have even found it a bit too "liberal."

But I changed. As an institution of higher learning, I would expect TWU to encourage its students to experience such change and development and start to question and criticize its leaders when they see or experience discrimination within their community.

But as long as TWU cannot itself call into question the Community Covenant it has held onto for decades, I don't foresee any real change.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Aline Bouwman

Aline Bouwman is a recent queer graduate of Trinity Western University and the former editor in chief of the school's student newspaper.