“In my words, (LISTEN’s purpose) would be: one, to offer a safe place for those who do identify as LGBTQ just to talk and feel safe, and two, to be a place for straight allies like me to connect with LGBTQ folks to offer solidarity and encouragement,” she told the Carrier. “There’s a lot of psychological research to back the necessity of a group like LISTEN on campus, so that gives a good, solid basis for LISTEN’s purpose as well.”
LISTEN was first formed in 2003, but faced multiple obstacles in receiving official recognition from Berry. While LISTEN was approved by the Student Life Council and then-President Scott Colley in 2004, the college’s board of trustees reversed the decision and denied the organization official club status because they felt it would focus on LGBT advocacy.
Berry College bills itself as “a comprehensive liberal-arts college with Christian values,” and also has close ties with Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based restaurant chain that is outspoken in opposition to gay marriage and donates funds through its WinShape Foundation to groups that fight against LGBT rights.
The WinShape Campus is located on the Berry campus, and offers services ranging from summer camps and college leadership programs to marriage retreats. Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy is a member of Berry’s Board of Trustees
A renewed effort to gain official recognition for LISTEN began last spring in the wake of an alleged hate crime on campus. On March 26, a student reported finding a note saying “faggot nigger fuck off” in his dorm room.
The incident sparked renewed meetings in the spring to discuss official recognition for LISTEN.
The LISTEN committee launched in May and met over the summer, according to the Carrier.
Briggs, who made the final decision to approve LISTEN, said the long road to approval paralleled the debate within Christian churches over sexual orientation.
“In our mission statement there are a couple of statements about our being a campus that is ‘Christian in spirit.’ So just as in the Christian church at large, this has been a controversial issue, it’s inevitably meant that the controversy has carried out into society in general and also on campus,” Briggs said, as quoted by the Carrier.
“There are different points of view within the Christian community at large about sex outside of marriage, of any form. It’s not simply about homosexuality,” he said.
The new campus group will hold its first meeting on Thursday, Sept. 20.
Photo courtesy Berry College