Belmont University blocks gay group

What's it like to be a gay student at one of the South's most prominent Christian universities?

It's a daily challenge, according to Belmont University music business major Robbie Maris. He began a Facebook page for a gay and lesbian student support group at the private institution last year. Although the group has made repeated requests to the administration, officials have so far halted their effort to be recognized as a student organization.

"As a gay Christian, I feel a need to stand in this gap that's created at Belmont and in the church," said Maris, president of Bridge Builders, a group of Belmont students who have united to support GLBT individuals at the university. "I don't expect the university to change their faith and their values, but they should allow this group. There's a legitimate need for it."

In their mission statement, Bridge Builders says they will "strive to foster the discussion and examination of the Christian faith and LGBT-related issues, both as an intersection and a divide, through respectful means and diverse cultural, social, and faith-based perspectives. We uphold Jesus Christ as our ideal standard and model, and revere Christ’s promise: 'blessed are the peacemakers.'"

Last spring Belmont provost Dr. Marcia McDonald decided to take their proposal under review. The university eventually refused to charter Bridge Builders, and instead agreed to sponsor a dialogue group. According to their statement, an organization centered on GLBT issues was said to be potentially "divisive and problematic."

Maris, however, believes Bridge Builders could play an integral role in promoting diversity and fellowship at Belmont. So far, he's gathered over 1000 signatures in support of his cause.

"We plan on making copies of the petition and delivering them to the administration," Maris said. "There's an overwhelming amount of faculty support, but the students and faculty are left powerless to the administration."

He added, "My experience from Belmont has been very positive. By working on this petition, we got to see people's true colors. I think the majority of the campus is in favor of this. It's just a small portion is adamantly opposed to it."

An attempt to revive the controversial group was again denied this semester by university officials. Maris' main objective now is to prompt conversation about GLBT issues and foster a more welcoming atmosphere on campus.

"The Nashville community is starting to talk and realize the oppression at the university," he said. "Belmont is saying they want to be Nashville's university, but then they're not representing all of Nashville by not acknowledging us, so getting the word out now will expose Belmont for what it is, and hopefully they will reconsider their decision."

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