Hope officials want pro gay-lesbian protest kept indoors
By John Agar, The Grand Rapids Press
A student group at Hope College wants to have a "clothesline" display to show support for gay and lesbian students.
But school officials say they're going to have to keep it indoors, rather than hold a public display on campus in Pine Grove.
"To me, it seems like they're closeting the issue," Jill Pierson, president of Women's Issues Organization, said Monday.
Her group planned the display in response to a visit later this week by the Rev. Mario Bergner of Illinois, a once-gay man who says that God helped him overcome homosexuality.
The appearance has upset many on campus. The chapel staff invited Bergner to add another voice to the debate, but gay students fear that he will provide ammunition for those who think they can change their sexual orientation.
"The campus is becoming very polarized," Pierson said.
The college is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, which holds that a practicing homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Scripture. However, the church encourages love and sensitivity toward homosexuals.
Hope spokesman Tom Renner said administrators denied WIO's request that the clothesline be displayed in Pine Grove, behind Dimnent Chapel.
He said that it could be displayed in the Maas Center, which he said is more appropriate for a demonstration.
"(The clothesline demonstration) has a history, and most of them have been indoors," Renner said.
"The exhibit is intended for the campus audience. The outside space is used by many (people) beyond campus," he said.
The WIO has held such displays during national Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and had one last October in the Mass Center.
But another - a "clothesline of intolerance," focusing on what some called intolerance on campus toward homosexuals, non-Christians and minorities - surfaced last spring in Pine Grove.
It followed a story in the Anchor, the campus newspaper, which reported that chaplain staff forced a bible-study leader to step down when she told peers she was a lesbian.
Renner said that some of the banners hung last year were inappropriate, especially when viewed by children.
About a 1,000 young students are expected on campus this week for a Model United Nations program.
Although student leaders say that the school doesn't want an outside display because it draws potentially negative publicity, Renner said that the Maas Center is visited by many - and that the controversy will probably generate publicity, anyway.
Christine Trinh, the WIO secretary, said she didn't know if it was worth having in the Maas Center. She said that only those who have an interest will go to see the exhibit, tentatively scheduled for early next week.
WIO has invited the Rev. Mel White, a nationally known gay minister, to speak March 16. Student Congress voted two weeks ago to bring White to campus, but rescinded the invitation in a second vote last week. WIO and other campus groups and departments are now sponsoring the visit.
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Last updated 4/5/99 by Jean Richter, richter@eecs.Berkeley.EDU