Why I filed a lawsuit and why it matters for the future

Lauren Hoekstra— Staff Writer

When I made my final college decision in the spring of 2018, I never imagined my sexuality would become a point of contention at a Christian university, earning me unintended or indirect discrimination. If I had known this, I may have never decided to attend Dordt College, now University. 

During my junior year of high school, like many others my age, I looked at many colleges, including Dordt. The Northwest Iowa school struck me with a sense of community that permeated every aspect of the campus: student life, faculty/staff members, and academics. I was told I would know the right college when I visited— it would just feel right. Dordt, to me, just felt right.

During my freshman year at Dordt, a bisexual friend of mine (a year older than me) told me about rules stated in the handbook. This year’s academic handbook reads:

Dordt University specifically holds the following behavior as unbiblical and therefore prohibited for as long as one is a member of the Dordt community, regardless of whether such behavior takes place on or off campus: … Homosexual relations. It is unacceptable to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex. It is unacceptable to marry or be engaged to marry a person of the same sex. Dordt University also prohibits promoting or advocating such activity. 

For little freshman me, still very closeted, the handbook was a slap in the face. What did they mean? I couldn’t date anyone or express myself openly? Isn’t there only a few verses on homosexuality that vary on interpretation depending on your reading? 

Lauren Hoekstra

I considered transferring, I’ll admit it. But by the time I processed everything emotionally, I was already a year in and had made good friends at Dordt who I didn’t want to leave. Despite its drawbacks, Dordt was still home to me. 

After coming out during the summer in between my sophomore and junior year, I heard about an opportunity for involvement in a documentary focusing on queer folks at Christian universities. I jumped at the opportunity, looking to educate the community around me, many of which never have had the opportunity to speak with a queer person. I got in contact with Paul Southwick, our lawyer. He informed me of the chance to participate in part of a lawsuit as well, the initial purpose of the ad. How could I say no to that? The possibility of seeing myself in a history book someday, as well changing the future of the higher-ed system, intrigued me and drew me right in.

Three and a half months after I first contacted Southwick, the 33 plaintiffs at the time filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education for giving religious exemptions to Christian universities that allowed them to discriminate against queer students. The impact was incredible. We were trending on Twitter. We were talked about in the news. I was even on the local news station. My years spent hiding in shame and hearing slurs and demeaning comments about “the gays” finally had a purpose. 

Now we are almost six months after filing. Our legal team and support team has grown. We gained plaintiffs, putting our total at 40, and 35 of the plaintiffs have filed official Title IX complaints against their current or past schools on the basis of anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Overall, we are making progress, which feels fantastic.

During my time at Dordt, specifically before I came out, I heard comments by professors and students slanted against queer people, including, verbatim, “the gays are going to hell.” 

After coming out, I lost friends, including very close ones. At first, it was painful. But spending time in therapy and finding new friends who accepted me for who I was helped ease the pain. Because of coming out, I have met so many other queer students on campus, many of whom you would never expect.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have everything figured out. I’m still trying to work through my religious trauma and my personal identity. However, having friends who have stood by my side, cheering me on, has made it all worth it.

I am thankful for my time at Dordt, but knowing what I know now, I’m not sure if I would choose Dordt if I could do it all over again. This lawsuit against the Department of Education will make sure no religious institutions, including Dordt, can harm the already vulnerable queer students. We are fighting for no more sexual, physical and psychological abuses across the country in the name of Christianity. No more queer kids should have to go through the pain I, and all the other plaintiffs, have gone through.

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