By AT News Team, March 11, 2015:   A conflict over a fundraiser at Andrews University (AU) that was to be held for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) teens has escalated onto social media and other online news outlets. Andrews University, which is located in Berrien Springs, MI, is the flagship educational institution of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Eliel Cruz says he encouraged the university’s unofficial LGBT group Aull4One to hold a bake sale fundraiser for a service agency that supports LGBT homeless youth, reported Blue Nation Review. The Windy City Times added that the agency was Project Fierce in Chicago.

Cruz told Blue Nation Review that Aull4One has approximately 80 members, “majority of them queer.” “Administration knows we exist, they allow us to exist,” Cruz said, “and some administrators even champion the group’s existence. But unfortunately, we are unable to advertise our meetings and events on campus.”

“We turned in a proposal last semester for [a] bake sale, [and the] Deans of Student life asked us to move forward with the proposal,” Cruz said, according to the Windy City Times. “[Since] we are an unofficial group, we needed someone to sponsor us; this is quite common. Many students have ideas and get groups to sponsor them. Campus Ministries agreed to sponsor us.”

When AU decided not to allow the proposed bake sale, Steve Yeagley, dean of Student Life, explained the university position in an email to Cruz, according to Blue Nation Review. “I think the most helpful thing I can do is to draw your attention to the fundraising policy found in the Student Handbook. It simply states that funds may be raised for non-profit organizations ‘whose mission and practices do not conflict with those of the University.’ I think the judgment in this case is that there may be a perceived conflict between the mission and practices of Andrews University and those of Fierce Chicago – certainly not in their efforts to aid homeless youth, but in their approach to the LGBT issue, at large,” Yeagley said.

Yeagley also offered, “If a way can be found to serve LGBT homeless youth through an organization that more fully reflects the University’s mission and the stance of our denomination (which clearly calls for exhibiting compassion toward LGBT persons), let’s explore that.”

Blue Nation Review said Cruz then attempted to clarify: “Also, would a proposal to raise funds for another LGBT organization that works with LGBT homeless youth (say the Center in Halsted) actually be accepted?” It is not clear if the university addressed this specific question.

Andrews University distributed a statement to media sources outlining its perspective. The essential factor in the university’s opinion was the advocacy efforts of Fierce Chicago, rather than the direct service of the agency, according to the school’s statement—“our objection was not to the worthy goal of serving LGBT homeless youth and their transitional housing needs but to the perceived advocacy stance of the proposed organization.”

The entirety of AU’s media statement follows:

Andrews University recognizes the special challenges facing LGBT youth and believes that efforts to help them are worthy.

Providing care to LGBT homeless youth is compatible with our institutional mission to demonstrate God’s love to all people, and reflects our denomination’s specific call to exhibit compassion for LGBT persons.

At the same time, Andrews University has declined a student request to officially endorse a fundraising effort to raise money for an organization that may have a perceived LGBT advocacy role.

This decision was made in the context of our student fundraising policy in the Student Handbook, which states that funds may be raised for non-profit organizations “whose mission and practices do not conflict with those of the University.”

So, our objection was not to the worthy goal of serving LGBT homeless youth and their transitional housing needs but to the perceived advocacy stance of the proposed organization.

As a result, we can and will support LGBT homeless youth through organizations whose mission and purpose clearly align with the religious mission and purpose of our University and its sponsoring church. We invite our student clubs to find the appropriate organizations and opportunities to do just that.

Click on the following links for more information on the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s positions on homosexuality and same sex unions.[1]

The university also posted a question-and-answer document on its website that describes its perspective. In the document, university president Niels-Erik Andreasen shared that AU supports efforts to care for LGBT homeless young people. “It is within the University and Church mission to seek to provide care and compassion wherever and for whoever needs it. The problem of LGBT homeless youth in particular is a heartbreaking national problem—perhaps as many as 40 percent of the homeless teens on the street at any one time are LGBT. Many of these teens were in Christian families who rejected their child’s orientation and, in the process, their child. A safe place and genuine care must be provided for these homeless LGBT youth,” he said.

Andreasen described how AU students can raise money for LGBT homeless people: “Students should engage in serious-minded dialogue about fundraising options with club sponsors or University administrators. Together, students and faculty/staff should explore whether a particular recipient of funds is largely and primarily aligned in support of the University’s mission and its faith commitment. The University recognizes that every single activity of an agency may not be in ‘alignment’—to expect perfect alignment might never permit any outside fundraising. But it is reasonable for the University to expect primary alignment between its mission and an agency’s activities.”

Finally, Andreasen also revealed his frustration with how the conversation was handled on campus. He shared, “the ‘problem’ as the University sees it is that once a decision was made that a student did not like, he stopped conversation about it and went to the press/social media to portray the University in a light that was neither fair nor accurate. What happened to the specific suggestion of an alternative Chicago-based agency that works with homeless LGBT youth and why was that option not explored more fully? These kinds of misunderstandings can be avoided when students and faculty/staff work together in good faith.”

Although this approach to the media was disconcerting for the university, it was quite effective from Aull4One’s perspective. The group raised levels of awareness on campus about the student group and also the experience of homeless LGBT young people more broadly. Furthermore, the publicity has drawn attention to Aull4One’s online fundraising campaign to support Project Fierce.[2] At the time of publication of this story, the campaign had raised $4,995, much more than would have been raised with the originally planned bake sale.

[1] The university’s statement is also available on the school’s website: https://www.andrews.edu/agenda/event/36208.

[2] Aull4One’s IndieGoGo campaign is accessible at https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/aull4one-raising-money-for-project-fierce.