Rochester College Student Threatened With Expulsion From Dorm After Coming Out … on Facebook
When Kiah Zabel changed her banner picture on Facebook, she didn’t anticipate that it would imperil her dorm room.
But the picture read “Out… Lesbian… Proud,” and Zabel attends a Christian college: Rochester College in Michigan. Zabel says that shortly after the photo was posted, she received an e-mail from the Dean of Students asking her to change it.
“‘Out...Proud...Lesbian’ is not really consistent with the heritage of Rochester College and has proven to already be disruptive among fellow students who are really bothered by it,” dean Brian Cole wrote, according to Zabel.
Cole allegedly gave her a choice: Remove the banner photo—go back in the closet—or be evicted from student housing.
While Rochester College administrators won’t deny that they asked her to take down the image and closet herself, President Rubel Shelly said in a statement that they never threatened the sophomore with expulsion from the university. Shelly was curiously quiet, though, about the student housing issue.
Private colleges, including religious colleges like Rochester College, receive state and federal grants—but those rallying around Zabel shouldn’t expect any pocketbook pressure.
While the 1983 Supreme Court case Bob Jones University vs. The United States established that the government is not required to fund or provide tax-exempt status to religious institutions that run “contrary to public policy,” this public policy does not currently include opposing discrimination against LGBT students. Michigan does not include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination laws; federal laws have similar holes, leaving institutions and organizations free to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
It’s happened to other students in other places: In 2006, a student at Kentucky’s private Baptist University of the Cumberlands was expelled for posting information about his (gay) dating life on Myspace. After he threatened to sue, the university allowed him to complete the semester and did not add the expulsion to his permanent record. (A rally and visit by gay Christian group Soulforce grew out of the dust-up; a court precedent did not.)
Zabel’s story is just another chapter in the continuing saga of LGBT students struggling for equality at religious academic institutions. Without state or federal antidiscrimination laws, many such students find themselves forced to remain in the closet—or else.
And, in many cases, government money pays for discriminatory institutions.
“Christians are supposed to love others and they love themselves,” Zabel told Fox Detroit. “Why am I being punished for being who I am?”
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.