As the world advances into the twenty-first century, the LGBTQ+ community similarly advances the fight for their rights. Many students on campus would agree that Hope College has had its own tumultuous history with LGBTQ+ rights. Written in 2011 and promoted by Hope up until it was repealed in the summer of 2019, the “Hope College Position Statement on Human Sexuality” kept any LGBTQ+ support groups or clubs from being officially recognized or funded by the college, dictating that “Hope College will not recognize or support campus groups whose aim by statement, practice or intimation is to promote a vision of human sexuality that is contrary to this understanding of biblical teaching.” After the college changed its position, students started working to create safe places for queer students on campus. One group that has risen from these efforts is Prism, which holds the goal of empowering LGBTQ+ students. Prism officially joined campus life with their “Coming Out Party” last spring.
The Anchor sat down with Miguel Castelan Hernandez (he/him) (’23), treasurer of Prism, to learn more about the group and how it is taking action on campus. According to Castelan Hernandez, “Prism’s goal is to support and empower the queer community on Hope’s campus.” Several general member meetings and events are planned throughout this semester. One event that will interest LGBTQ+ students and allies is the National Day of Silence on April 12. Prism hasn’t solidified their plans, but “we want to have a day where we stay silent throughout the whole school day to call attention toward discrimination of queer people,” Castelan Hernandez said. “Then the next day, we want to break the silence by having a poetry day to raise the voices of queer people.”
In recent history, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights has come to the forefront of American politics. It was only on June 6, 2015, that Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark Supreme Court case, made same-sex marriage legal in the United States and offered queer Americans protections under the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Despite the fact that the decision came down only six years ago, this decision was split 5-4 with the plaintiffs barely winning, showing just how contentious the climate around LGBTQ+ rights was and still is. Similar decisions are still being made as the fight continues. According to NBC, on December 14, 2020, a case from Indiana sought to restrict same-sex couples from being listed on the birth certificates of their children. To the relief of the LGBTQ+ community, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, supporting a lower court’s decision that it would be discriminatory to not name both parents on the birth certificate. There was also a recent loss for LGBTQ+ families, as reported by CNBC, when on November 4, 2020, the Supreme Court in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia decided that foster agencies could refuse to place foster children in the care of LGBTQ+ couples by citing the Establishment and religious Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment. Cases like these, while not necessarily affecting students, shows that the LGBTQ+ community still has progress to make in the U.S.
Though a relatively new club on campus, it is clear that a LGBTQ+ group like Prism was desired by many. In 2018 an anonymous group of students created 95 Stories, a website with 95 accounts of racism and homophobia on Hope’s campus. Like Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, these stories were meant to inspire change and show just how many students were affected by pervasive issues like racism and homophobia on campus. Of these, 40 stories relay LGBTQ+ discrimination on campus. The stories recount tales of overheard conversations, classroom horror stories, lost friendships, residential life rejection and more. Although every story is anonymous to protect the identity of the student who submitted it, the stories display evidence of discrimination and emphasize the need for groups like Prism who are taking action. Castelan Hernandez explained, “I personally feel like there is a fair amount of discrimination on campus. Most of the time, it is interpersonal, where other students disregard who we are and treat us with disrespect, but there also times when these come from faculty in the way of misgendering students, deadnaming and disregarding our identities as queer.” A large part of Prism’s initiatives focus on education. Castelan Hernandez said, “Prism is working to end discrimination by working on educating Hope’s campus. We do this through panels, presentations and hopefully this semester, with the help of Out on the Lakeshore, we can do allyship training for Hope’s faculty.”
Prism will soon celebrate its first birthday, and for LGBTQ+ students and allies on campus, their presence is a relief. If any student, queer or ally, wants to become involved with Prism, they will be at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Keppel House from 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday nights, or they can be reached from their email, email@example.com, or their Instagram, @hopecollegeprism.