Student and local LGBTQ activists crowded in front of the Wright Center at Samford University in Birmingham on Tuesday to pressure the private Christian college into removing what they claim are anti-LGBTQ policies.
Baptists founded Samford in 1841 as Howard College in Marion before moving to Birmingham in 1887 and later to its current location in Homewood in 1957. It acquired Cumberland School of Law in 1961, which now serves as one of Alabama's only accredited law schools. In 1965, it was renamed Samford University.
Last year, Samford denied two local churches — one an Episcopal Church and another one a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA) — from participating in the university's ministry fair on campus due to their position on same-sex marriage. Samford officials told the press the university has a responsibility to partner with organizations that share its beliefs.
According to reports, Samford also denied recognition to LGBTQ law student group OUTlaw, suggesting that the organization would promote "beliefs and behaviors contrary to the religious values of Samford."
According to Students, Alumni & Faculty for Equality (SAFE) Samford founder Brit Blalock, the university's refusal of official recognition to OUTlaw is the incident that spurred the protest, which also happened last year.
SAFE Samford is a group of around 1,000 individuals, which Blalock said was founded to "ensure that all LGBTQ members of the Samford community feel safe, welcomed, affirmed and loved."
Tuesday's protesters remained in front of Wright Center for one hour, demanding that the pro-LGBTQ churches be allowed at the next ministry fair, and Samford administrators approve LGBTQ student groups and pass "anti-discrimination policies to protect the LGBTQ+ population" at the university. They also requested a meeting with Samford's Board of Trustees to address their concerns.
Blalock argued that Samford has always been "ecumenically diverse," only has historical ties to the Alabama Baptists and no longer accepts funds from the organization as of 2018. She said that most Samford students and faculty support the protesters' demands. She also suggested that recognizing LGBTQ student groups does not mean endorsing the beliefs of those groups.
1819 News asked Blalock if she thinks Samford, as a private university, should be required to recognize LGBTQ groups.
"I think all universities that receive federal funding of ANY kind (including federal loans to students to attend) should have to grant equal rights to students regardless of their gender or sexuality in keeping with the laws laid out in Title IX," she said. "Currently, Samford and dozens of other Christian colleges in the U.S. skirt those laws by utilizing a religious exemption to discriminate against LGBTQ students. Tons of people all over the country believe that loophole should be closed or those Christian colleges should lose all of their federal funding ties."
1819 News also contacted Samford officials, including school president Beck Taylor, but did not receive a response.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct some historical information about Samford University.
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