This year’s National Coming Out Day was not a joyous day for Michelle Lori.
The 22-year-old Green, Ohio native is in her last semester at Malone University, a private Christian liberal arts college in Canton, Ohio. Whatever plans she had for October 11 were immediately discarded in the face of an e-mail sent to the student body by Dr. David King, Malone’s president.
In the e-mail, Dr. King, shared that he was informed by Dr. Karyn Collie, associate professor of biology, that “she is in a relationship with a woman and intends to be married this summer” which would “put her in violation of the terms of her employment as a Malone faculty member.”
With an educational mission “grounded in the biblical call to seek Christ’s Kingdom First in all things,” Malone is guided by community responsibilities, including:
Sex should be exclusively reserved for the marriage relationship, understood as a legal, lifelong commitment between a husband and wife.
Dr. King’s e-mail informed the community that Dr. Collie “respectfully resigned from the University,” thanked her for her service over her 8 years at Malone, and underscored that “adhering to the Community Responsibilities principles fosters an environment that holistically supports students throughout their Malone experience.”
When she read the e-mail, Lori said she most definitely did not feel supported.
“I was enraged,” Lori said. “I was fuming.”
Lori was able to cut-and-paste the addresses of the Malone student body from Dr. King’s e-mail and sent them a mass e-mail encouraging them to reach out to her if they were upset or jarred by Dr. King’s message. By the end of National Coming Out Day, Lori’s inbox was flooded.
“I had hundreds of people e-mailing and texting me,” Lori said.
She then started a Facebook group and named it “Sam’s Safe Space,” in honor of a Malone alum who had organized a safe space group for LGBTQ+ Malone students, which Lori said Malone refused to recognize as an official student club.
“After he graduated, the group died, and no one kept it going,” Lori said.
A few days after National Coming Out Day, Lori gathered with other Malone students in the campus library to write notes of support and encouragement to Dr. Collie. During that conversation, ideas began to percolate for follow-up actions.
“Someone said, ‘Should we do a protest?'” Lori said. “I thought maybe not a protest, but something more peaceful like a sit-in. We decided that our school’s Community Worship in the chapel would be the best place for this because a lot of students go to the Worship and it is open to the community.”
Students were invited to meet in the parking lot on Wednesday, October 20, to enter Community Worship together, wearing Pride shirts and bearing Pride flags. The invite emphasized that it was to be a “peaceful and civil sit-in, not a violent or disrespectful protest.” The goal was to make it clear that students were “advocating for a safer environment for LGBTQ+ students at Malone.”
Over 20 community members gathered on Wednesday for the demonstration, including representatives from Walsh University, who have also struggled this year with LGBTQ+ acceptance on their own campus. Lori describes the event as a success.
“It went really well,” Lori said. “There was a decent turnout and it was great to see all the people who turned up. It was a good baby step forward for us..”
For his part, Dr. King said that the Malone approach to working with students—including LGBTQ+ students—is rooted in support.
“The words genuine, authentic and loving come to mind,” Dr. King told The Buckeye Flame. “Like any family system, do we always come across as genuine, authentic and loving? No. We’ll fall short, and that’s part of the human story. But we still have that approach in keeping the bar high in terms of our efforts to care for all of our students.”
He said that he understands that LGBTQ+ students might feel tension with the Community Responsibilities, bu that Malone will stand with those students in their journey.
“If we were to have a student who comes out for the first time as gay while they are a student at Malone, we’re going to come alongside that student in relationship with them,” Dr. King said. “We will help them navigate this space in their life in ways that are constructive.”
With regards to Dr. Collie’s resignation, Dr. King said that being LGBTQ+ and teaching at Malone are not mutually exclusive.
“The issue goes to the relationship with our sponsoring denomination and our own governing Board and the current policy we have with regard to traditional marriage,” Dr. King said. “A single and celibate faculty member who is out and gay is a welcome part of our campus.”
That said, he was quick to heap praise on the LGBTQ+ and ally students using their voices to make a difference.
“I am immensely proud of our students in the way they express respectful and deeply thought-out concerns,” Dr. King said. “Doing community well is messy and hard work, and Malone has a good history of leaning into doing that hard community work well.”
For Lori, the hard community work is not done. She said the sit-in helped show people that there are a sizable number of LGBTQ+ members of the Malone community, which helps counter the feeling some individuals received with the e-mail on National Coming Out Day.
“One of the big messages that Malone sent was that you cannot be a good Christian and be a part of the LGBTQ community,” Lori said. “We just want to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and we definitely have more work to do to get there.” 🔥