Dozens of protesters lined the sidewalk in front of Shorter University in Rome, Ga., this morning to protest the school's stringent new Personal Lifestyle Statement, which requires staff to reject homosexuality and never drink alcohol in public, among other restrictions.
"It was a great success. We had about 200 at peak attendance," protest organizer Gary D. Harrell told GA Voice, describing "overwhelming support, honks and thumbs up from passing community, students and faculty."
Organizer: About 200 join protest over anti-gay Shorter University policy
The Rome News-Tribune estimated the crowd at “over 100.” Photos showed protesters in front of the university’s entrance carrying signs with slogans like “SOS: Save Our Shorter.”
The protest was timed to coincide with this morning’s inauguration of new Shorter University President Don Dowless, who took the helm of the school in June.
The inauguration, which was not open to the public, remained scheduled at the university, but classes were canceled Thursday and Friday after a bomb threat was phoned into the campus on Thursday morning, according to the News-Tribune. The threat, which police cleared, came as about a dozen people gathered Thursday in a smaller protest over Shorter’s new policy.
The new Personal Lifestyle Statement was approved by the university’s board of trustees on Oct. 21 and announced to staff on Oct. 25. The policy includes, “I reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality.”
The statement also says that employees must be active members of a local church and includes requirements about being loyal to the mission of Shorter; not using, selling or possessing illegal drugs; and not drinking alcoholic beverages in public (including at restaurants), in front of students or attending university events within six hours of drinking.
Employees must sign the statement that stresses that they can be fired for violating the policy: “I have read and agree with the Personal Lifestyle Statement and will adhere to it in its entirety while employed at Shorter University. I understand that failure to adhere to this statement may result in disciplinary action against me, up to and including immediate termination.”
The Personal Lifestyle Statement drew criticism from bloggers ranging from the Huffington Post to the Washington Post, but none more vociferous than Shorter’s hometown newspaper. The Rome News-Tribune has published multiple articles, editorials and letters about the controversy.
But Harrell said some of his fellow Rome citizens were still unaware of the policy, and this morning’s protest helped educate them.
“Many people in our community had no idea about this new agreement until they saw our protest, and it sparked their interest,” he told GA Voice. “Some even joined in.”
Harrell did not offer details of the next steps for those who oppose the policy, but predicted, “I think we will just get stronger.”
The Southern Baptist faith has been among the most vocal opponents of gay equality, including organizing an unsuccessful boycott of Disney because of its alleged support for LGBT rights.
The new Shorter policy has upset many staff, students and alumni — although many staff are fearful of speaking out.
“We now will live in fear that someone who doesn’t like us personally or someone who has had a bad day will report that we’ve been drinking or that we are suspected of being gay,” said one gay employee, who declined to reveal his name due to the policy and said he is “not likely to stay with the university.”
You can read his full interview with GA Voice here.
Shorter will not grant any further interviews on the policy, according to university public relations staff. But Dowless and Trustee Chair-Elect Joe Frank Harris, Jr. have defended the policy in press statements.
“The ‘why’ is really simple: What you stand for matters,” Harris said in a university press release. “Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us to ‘Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.’ If we acknowledge Him, He will make this university’s path straight.”