After the news came out over Facebook last Thursday that Dr. Heather Ann Clements, also known as Heath Adam Ackley, had agreed to leave his teaching position as a theology professor due to his transgender identity, some students began showing support for him with #wesupportadam hashtags, later switching to #westandwithadam.
(See: Theology professor set to leave university over transgender identity)
On Saturday, Haven Co-president Alyson Thatcher started a petition on change.org to call for a change in APU policy to create a safer environment for transgender faculty and students. The petition had more than 1,500 signatures by Tuesday afternoon and was shared on Facebook by Biola Queer Underground, Biola University’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, and the APU Young Progressives club.
“We’re hoping that by doing this, by exposing us to the APU community who we really are, we’ll create a safer environment for other people to respond by being true to who they are as well,” Thatcher said. “In many instances, freshmen end up leaving APU because they feel alone. We want students to know that they’re not alone.”
Haven is APU’s unofficial GSA club. Members meet weekly at Thatcher’s house, as they are not allowed to meet on campus.
“I think it’s an injustice to let go or invite to leave a professor who has done nothing but impact students in positive ways,” she said.
On Monday morning, Haven posted profiles of 19 students, one alum and Ackley on the “Door of Discussion,” right next to the student post office on East Campus.
Sophomore social work major Nicole Ennes spent several minutes reading the profiles and said it was about time the students came out and talked about their situation.
“At this university, it’s a very touchy subject,” she said. “Half these people are my friends.”
However, other students think the administration was acting appropriately by asking Ackley to consider other employment opportunities. One student who wished to remain anonymous said APU has a specific set of standards that its faculty needs to uphold.
“It’s a private institution that students are paying a lot of money to go [to] because of that set of standards and upholding those biblical views,” said the sophomore communication studies major. “Just having someone that could even potentially contradict those in any way would be wrong and shouldn’t be an example.”
Senior psychology major Joshua Portillo noted that sadly, students who go against “the main stream of liberal thinking” fear persecution.
“As Christians, we are to speak out against the perversion of homosexual activity. The Bible is explicit in its condemnation of it, as well as God’s wrath toward those who practice such behavior,” he said. “As Christians, we are called to clearly and lovingly call sin for what it is.”
Portillo said he stands with APU in their decision with handling Ackley’s situation.
“The sole reason why I, along with many others, attend a private Christian university and pay the high dollars to do so is because it is called to be set apart,” he said.
Ackley was still teaching his classes on Monday and Tuesday, and told students he will continue to do so for the rest of the week and until further notice, according to students in his classes. His last day of teaching is still unclear.
Haven leader and junior sociology major Margaret van der Bie met Ackley this semester during his Theology and the Christian Life class. She said Ackley, who she said often hosts Haven students at his house, walked her through biblical justification of LGBTQ Christians.
“He went through every verse with me. That just gives me such peace and validation, that like these two things don’t conflict,” said van der Bie on being both lesbian and a practicing Christian.
Many evangelical denominations teach the opposite, that biblical passages in Romans and 1 Corinthians, among others, condemn practicing an LGBTQ lifestyle.
Van der Bie said they are asking APU to consider letting Ackley stay through the end of the semester.
“It’s not fair to students and it’s not fair to the professors who have to take up his class. It’s past the add/drop date,” she said.
Ackley’s situation with the administration has received national attention, but freshman applied exercise science major Bill Fisher said students should not be involved in or so knowledgeable about a professor’s personal life.
“That should be none of our business, if she’s changing her gender or anything like that,” he said.
Fisher also stated that he agreed with APU’s decision to ask Ackley to leave.
“Our APU community is based in Christian ideals that a man is a man and a woman is a woman,” he said. “I believe they were in the right to do that.”