OPINION: Being queer isn’t a ‘lifestyle,’ so quit calling it one

“We are non-affirming. This means we do not agree that the LGBTQIA+ lifestyle is supported by biblical text,” Vessel said in a statement on March 1.

Vessel, a unregistered Christian worship group that meets on DePaul’s campus, made this statement on March 1 and quickly received backlash from students about the language used in a response post to comments asking them to publicly disclose their stance on LGBTQIA+ inclusion. 

The statement also poses the question: why does this kind of word choice really matter, and why is it harmful to the LGBTQIA+ community? 

This response post was made following a comment by David Hupp, a DePaul senior, who questioned Vessel in their Instagram comments to press them into disclosing their non-affirming stance.

“I pushed them for more information because I have personally had bad experiences in the past with groups failing to disclose this kind of important information,” Hupp said. 

Hupp, who identifies as queer, found out about the group through a friend’s Instagram stories. Since then, he started to ask important questions about why Vessel decided on being non-affirming as a key characteristic of their group. It took a few days of questioning back-and-forth in the comment section until Vessel came forward with an official statement of their views on the LGBTQIA+ community. 

When asked about the reason for pushing the Christian group to disclose their stance, Hupp explained how important it is on campus for any club or organization to be transparent about their values while recruiting new members. 

“I don’t want other students to end up investing months or years of their time and energy into a group like this, just to realize only after it has become difficult to leave that the values of the group do not align with one’s own,” Hupp said. 

Alongside Vessel, however, there are other religious student groups at DePaul that hold non-affirming stances, and some have been allowed to register as officially recognized student organizations. 

Associate Dean Leslie Watland, who I had a meeting with following the situation last week, said as long as the religious group does not outwardly discriminate and allows members of the LGBTQIA+ community to join, DePaul organizations can hold a non-affirming stance. 

Grace Lewandowski, a junior at DePaul, helped start the Change.org petition to have Vessel removed from campus. She also believes there should be a change to the anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy at the university.  

“I think that DePaul lacks in the way that they don’t have a standard for dealing with these situations,” Lewandowski said. “They don’t have a protocol. They have the anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy.”  

Women and gender studies professor Laila Farah was shocked to find out that any religious group would be able to meet on campus and call themselves “non-affirming” without a review from the Office of Student Affairs. 

“Whatever process they are using to screen student groups obviously needs to be revisited because this is inappropriate, and especially inappropriate for a religious based organization,” Farah said. “There can be no place for this at DePaul.” 

The strict regulations are not the only issue that put Vessel under fire from DePaul students. The group used the terminology “lifestyle” in reference to the LGBTQIA+ community which has come under much scrutiny from students for being inaccurate and extremely dated for what it truly means to have a queer identity. 

For DePaul activist organization Act Out, the term “lifestyle” makes the assumption that being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is a choice, which members agree is not a term that can speak to the immense struggle and trauma the queer community continues to face each day. One example is the recent legislation affecting southern states like Florida and Alabama who have enforced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

A DePaul Act Out member, who requested to stay anonymous, explained, “you usually see the word lifestyle paired with lifestyle choices. It makes it seem us being gay, us being trans, or anything in between is a choice.”

Fiona Reed, the interim President of Act Out also spoke about her discomfort with the group’s use of the Bible verse which has had a past of being inaccurate for having differing translations and for the use of the term “lifestyle” in Vessels response post. 

“Calling it a lifestyle diminishes the pain, the trauma, and what being queer means in today’s society,” Reed said. 

DePaul University came out with the Guiding Principle for Speech and Expression which was officially approved in May of 2017. The principle explains how the university affirms the freedom of speech of students, as long as they are in compliance with community guidelines. 

The principles state: “The University may also reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of speech and expression for a variety of reasons, including to allow for the continuance of University business or to ensure the safety and security of the campus and members of the DePaul community.” 

According to Farah, this policy was created because of harmful language that was used among certain groups to target minority students. This is why it is apparent, more than ever, for student voices to be heard when any minority group is targeted. 

“Student voices are heard times 100 of what a faculty voice says,” Farah said. “It matters.”