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Christian NCAA member Azusa Pacific bans all same-sex relationships

Gay, bi, lesbian, trans and queer students are the target of a ban at Azusa Pacific, which is an NCAA Division II school.

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Azusa Pacific University, an NCAA Division II school with ties to the Christian church, has reinstated a previously suspended ban on same-sex relationships, sending LGBTQ students, student-athletes, members of the administration and advocates scrambling.

The school’s Board of Trustees late last week sent a notice returning the school’s policy to say “Students may not engage in a romanticized same-sex relationship.”

Some Christians have long held that the Bible bans sex between people of the same gender. This policy goes even further, banning all romantic same-sex relationships, even those that don’t include sex. The school’s policy already bans sex outside of wedlock, this policy simply specifically targets gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer people.

God has yet to weigh in on the decision.

The former NAIA school is now a member of the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference, and for football is part of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

The move by APU is reminiscent of steps taken by Erskine College in South Carolina several years ago. After two athletes came out publicly at Erskine, the Board of Trustees banned homosexuality from the school. The school is associated with the Christian Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Pat Griffin is one of the architects of the LGBTQ movement in sports. Over the last several decades she has been at the forefront of just about every major push for equality. Even in retirement she is still active with Common Ground, an initiative in partnership with the NCAA to bring together people of faith with LGBTQ people in sports to find common ground and move conversations toward understanding.

In her trailblazing role she has visited Azusa Pacific University. She has worked with people on the campus to help build bridges and find a more open, welcoming way to treat LGBTQ people at the school.

“I was excited when I first heard that APU was dropping their ban on ‘same-sex romanticized relationships’ between students on their campus,” Griffin told Outsports. “I know they have been engaged in campus conversations over the last several months about how to become a more welcoming place for LGBTQ students.

“I have been honored to have been invited to participate in some of these conversations. That only makes my disappointment in APU’s decision to reinstate their ban more difficult to hear. I fear that LGBTQ students on campus, many of whom were actively engaged in this conversation and made themselves vulnerable in doing so, must be devastated by this surprising reversal.”

The affects of the anti-LGBTQ policy of the school were apparent in an article by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. It said that the school’s LGBTQ group, Haven, saw seven or eight weekly attendees at meetings when the same-sex-relationship ban was in place. After it was rescinded, organizers said they had 50 weekly attendees. Now the group’s very existence is in flux.

We know of at least one former gay athlete at Azusa Pacific, football player Andre Apodaca, who talked openly about the fears of being gay at APU after the school’s handling of the treatment of a gay student.

“That incident forced me even further into the closet,” Apodaca wrote at the time. “I would go to mandatory chapel and hear that marriage is between one man and one woman, and any other behavior is wrong.”

Apodaca ultimately transferred from the university before coming out publicly.

One of the reasons Griffin has been so engaged with Azusa Pacific is her relationship with the athletic director, Gary Pine. Pine has been an important voice in the Common Ground project, bringing the perspective of a devout Christian at a Christian school with a ban on same-sex relationships.

When I reached out to Pine this week, he declined to comment. I have always found him to be caring for all of his student-athletes. His participation in Common Ground has sent a message that he wants more dialogue across communities and he is committed to finding a place where Christians of various perspectives and members of the LGBTQ community can meet and support one another.

For her part, Griffin has a lot of hope for the future of LGBTQ people at Azusa Pacific, even if the news from the last few days is tough to swallow.

“After having talked with some of the people I have worked with at APU, I am hopeful that this setback is not the final word on LGBTQ inclusion at APU,” Griffin said. “These conversations will continue on campus and among the Board of Trustees. I believe that the good intentions of staff and administration who support more engagement with and acceptance of their LGBTQ students will result in institutional changes that we can all celebrate. That celebration will just need to be put on hold for now.”

Her optimism is reflected in some reports this week as board member Albert Tate has talked publicly about finding language that will allow LGBTQ students to “feel and experience the love we have for them and find a way to make sure they know we were all created in the image of God and have great, significant value and worth, while holding onto our vision and value and biblical fidelity.”

It’s hare to understand exactly what all that means, though it seems to reflect some hope for understanding. Still, this whole episode is why the NCAA should engage in serious, public discussions about refusing to allow any member institutions to have anti-LGBTQ, racist or sexist policies.

This is not the last chapter in the Azusa Pacific saga that has often left so many LGBTQ people so incredibly disappointed. We will continue to hope the people at APU reject policies that target specific groups of people.