Petition co-author hopes ETSU pressure moves Milligan toward changing LGBTQ stance, policies

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‘Consequences speak volumes,’ Milligan alum says

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Milligan alumnus Kelsey Maloney-Steiner was pleased to see East Tennessee State University’s Student Government (SGA) draft a resolution last week condemning her alma mater for forcing an LGBTQ professor to resign.

In response and support, Maloney-Steiner co-authored a petition that went up Friday on the website change.org and had been signed by more than 900 people by Monday afternoon. It’s aimed primarily at Milligan alumni, students and others associated with the university and calls on the school’s administration and trustee board to “amend discriminatory policies.”

The ETSU SGA resolution, set for a vote tomorrow, also calls on ETSU’s administration to “end all athletics scheduling, abandon pursuit of future academic agreements, and terminate partnerships in which university monies would be paid to Milligan…”

Kelsey Maloney-Steiner

Maloney-Steiner said she believes that kind of outside pressure could help spur change at the private Christian university where, she said, internal pressure has been unsuccessful.

“I hope that Milligan starts to see that they will experience consequences from this,” Maloney-Steiner said. “Up until this they haven’t experienced any consequences for having the viewpoint and the policies that they do and I think consequences speak volumes.”

In its first sentence the petition states that its authors and signers “are in support of the legislation proposed by the ETSU SGA, which condemns Milligan University’s decision to force resignation upon a professor because of their sexual orientation and calls into question ETSU’s partnership with Milligan.”

By mid-afternoon Monday, the petition had gained more than 900 signatures and included comments from alumni, former faculty, students and others.

A comment on the change.org petition from a retired Milligan faculty member.

Maloney-Steiner said she and a handful of others — who she said feel less liberty to speak openly about their positions — drafted the petition. It bears some similarities to a letter sent last spring to Milligan administration in the wake of the forced resignation but adds a focus on ETSU’s potential involvement.

Maloney-Steiner spent a year at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, which is affiliated with Milligan, and two more getting a masters degree at Milligan. She said during that time several years ago a small group of seminary students and alumni engaged the administration in hope of some change in its policies.

“We had some productive conversations, we had some really unproductive conversations,” she said.

Milligan’s “Statement on Human Sexuality” supports the traditional Christian stance of marriage as only between one man and one woman. Its faculty handbook notes that professors can be terminated for “immoral sexual conduct,” which would include same-sex relationships.

Maloney-Steiner said most of the people advocating for change want to see Milligan shift at some point to a completely “affirming” stance that would involve changing its statement on human sexuality.

But she said she believes most people from the Milligan community who opposed the forced resignation would be happy just to see constructive dialogue — and a move toward policies and actions that would at least leave LGBTQ faculty and students no longer in fear of expulsion or termination.

She added, though, that one essential among the group pushing for change would involve Milligan no longer including in its student handbook a specific mandate regarding sexual orientation.

“I think asking a queer person to sign a student handbook that basically says who they are is wrong, I think that’s really harmful,” Maloney-Steiner said.

“We see the harm that comes from that but we do know that any step forward is going to be good and we know this change is not going to be an immediate change. Milligan is a university, they’re a system. Change at the system level happens slowly and so even if we were to move in a direction where there’s a non-discrimination policy more developed, that would be a good direction to move.”

When the group she worked with studied some other small, liberal arts Christian college policies several years ago, Maloney-Steiner said they found a variety of approaches.

Some schools had become affirming and completely accepting of LGBTQ students, faculty and staff. Some had adopted an approach that retained non-affirming principles but somehow strove to allow open differences of opinion among their campus communities — and made it clear students and faculty needn’t fear expulsion or termination for being openly LGBTQ.

“I think the amount of voices we have now is going to help influence change at Milligan,” Maloney-Steiner said.

“Let’s really look at the theological, let’s look at the scriptures, let’s look at what God wants us to do. Because we go to Milligan, or we went to Milligan, because we have faith. We wouldn’t pick a school that puts that much emphasis on faith without thinking it was a really important part of our lives.”

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