Belmont President Enters Lisa Howe Controversy

| by Pat Griffin

The uproar at Belmont University in Nashville, TN continues a week after women’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, was dismissed because she is a lesbian. The university denies that she was dismissed and university president Robert Fisher -- in a statement from outer space last night -- claims that lesbian and gay students, staff and faculty are welcome at Belmont.

He states that, "In the 10 years I have served as Belmont's president, sexual orientation has not been considered in making hiring, promotion, salary or dismissal decisions. I need for you to hear that clearly."


Is that why an LGBT student group was denied official recognition. Is that why another lesbian professor has come forward to describe how the tenure track position she was offered at Belmont turned into a one year contract when administrators learned that she was a lesbian? She turned it down. Lisa Howe, a lesbian coach, is without a job today. If this isn’t because of her sexual orientation, then why? By all accounts she is a great coach, well liked, and judging all of her press statements about this controversy, a dignified and classy person.

Is the university president unveiling a new non-discrimination policy for Belmont? That would be great.

In the meantime, the uproar in Nashville just won’t die down. The women’s soccer team is keeping the pressure on, students are staging protests and sit-ins, faculty members are speaking out, city counselors in Nashville are objecting. It seems like the entire city is up in arms about the dismissal of a lesbian coach at a private Christian school. A major Belmont donor, board member emeritus and big player in the Nashville music scene has publicly attacked the university’s position. This is Nashville. A city in the south. The Bible Belt. Imagine. Let us all learn from these outraged southerners and Christians.

Meanwhile Lisa Howe’s dismissal has received national attention from major newspapers, bloggers and even Sports Illustrated, not known for their focus on social justice issues, has weighed in against Belmont’s actions.

It seems like Belmont students and faculty thought they were affiliated with a “progressive” Christian school that welcomed diversity including sexual orientation diversity, but university administrators and university board members are intent on enforcing that old time religion that says no gay allowed. Maybe that is changing if we are to believe the university president’s press statement. Or not. We’ll see.

The exciting thing is that the actions of the students and faculty at Belmont indicate that younger generations of Christians have different ideas about what it means to be a Christian than their elders do. They look at Lisa Howe and see a dedicated, popular and successful coach. Though she had never told them, they knew she was a lesbian and that was fine by them. The university administration looks at Lisa Howe and sees a sinner who must be purged from the campus. The hypocrisy here, of course, is that the administration was fine with Coach Howe until she told the team her partner is pregnant thereby outing herself. Then she became unsuitable for employment at a Christian school.

I can’t wait to see what happens with this story tomorrow. Today I bet Belmont administrators wish they had just congratulated Lisa on her coming motherhood and stuck their heads back in the sand.