Sports

Big Changes at Belmont University Since Discrimination Scandal

| by Pat Griffin

Lots has changed at Belmont University since the December departure of lesbian women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe. Howe and Belmont parted company by mutual agreement according to official accounts, but this tortured non-explanation of why the popular and successful coach left never made any sense. What did make sense was what her players reported being told by university administrators: Howe was pushed out because she is a lesbian and that was incompatible with the university’s Christian views.

After lots of negative media attention, student protests and public outcry, including a threat to withdraw financial support by a major university donor, it seems that Belmont has seen the light. In quick succession, the university has made two significant policy changes - the university has amended its non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation as an enumerated category. Bizarrely, the university president still insists that this change is merely making official what the university policy has always been, actions to the contrary. The second change is that the university has bestowed official recognition to an LGBT student group that has previously been denied recognition twice.

You’ll have to forgive my cynicism. I think the only reason Belmont made these policy changes is that they were forced to by the public outcry and, more importantly, the potential loss of a major donor.

The third change is that Belmont has hired a new women’s soccer coach. Despite calls to rehire Lisa Howe, this was not to be. The new coach, Heather Henson, is married to a man so all is right with the world again at Belmont. I am happy they hired a woman to coach the women’s team rather than hiring a heterosexual man to eliminate the possibility of inadvertently hiring another lesbian as some other schools have done. Think LSU post Pokey Chatman.

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I am happy that Belmont has been pressured into making these changes and I do hope that the university is sincere in backing their new gay affirmative policies with action and commitment. We’ll see. It just seems a shame to me that Lisa Howe is still out of a job at Belmont, a job she apparently did very well until she made the mistake of being honest and open. I hope that her sacrifice results in actual change in life on campus for other LGBT staff and students. At least then her loss will have meant something. Time will tell.

Perhaps Belmont is part of a new kinder, gentler Christian perspective on homosexuality in which LGBT people can be respected, if not accepted and in which the fact that some LGBT people are Christians too is not viewed as an oxymoron. We’ll see.