During a graduation ceremony at Seattle Pacific University, students handed interim president Dr. Pete C. Menjares rainbow Pride flags instead of shaking his hand when they went up to collect their degrees.
A video of the ceremony went viral on Twitter and the clip of students calmly giving Menjares the flags has gathered just under three million views to date.
Chloe Guillot, who helped organise the protest, told CNN: ‘It started just as a conversation among students that we didn’t really want to shake the president’s hand at graduation. So, we thought what can we do instead of that? And the idea came up: why don’t we hand out a pride flag?’
Why were the students protesting?
The students have been protesting in various ways, ever since the institution’s board voted to uphold rules which banned the hiring of LGBTQ+ staff.
According to NPR the SPU Board of Trustees chose to uphold the ban as it was ‘most in line with the university’s mission and Statement of Faith.’
On May 26, SPU students decided to hold a sit-in. Organised by the group ‘SPU is Gay’, the sit-in went on over several days at the Royal Brougham Pavilion as dozens of people took part.
AJ Larsen, a 2020 graduate and member of SPU’s alumni coalition, told NPR: ‘No matter what you believe, getting rid of these policies is the best way to make sure that our campus is an inclusive place for all people to be.’
In a statement, the university said faculty and staff at the uni must ‘continue to reflect a traditional view on Biblical marriage and sexuality, as an expression of long-held church teaching and biblical interpretation.’
It explained they understood the decision brought ‘heart-felt reactions’ but they’ve chosen to have SPU ‘remain in communion’ with the Free Methodist Chruch’.
SPU interim president responds
In a statement to PEOPLE, Menjares said: ‘It was a wonderful day to celebrate with our graduates. Those who took the time to give me a flag showed me how they felt and I respect their view.’
The video received hundreds of comments on Twitter, as people tapped in to share their views on the protest.
One person said: ‘This is a classy , respectful and direct protest that I can’t help but admire the students for.’
‘People saying they should go to a different school are missing the point. True Christianity is about love and acceptance for everyone. There is a big push within Christianity to reclaim our faith from the ones weaponizing it for hate. These students are amazing,’ a supportive user posted.
Another tweeted: ‘I stand with you. Thank you for standing up for LGBTQ+ people.’
‘This is what I call the perfect peaceful protest! Well done SPU students! You stand proud,’ someone responded to a video of the protest.