Shortly after National Coming Out Day in October, Concordia University - St. Paul (CSP) student Nikki Hagan made a brave announcement on Facebook. “Although I’m a little late, this has been on my heart and I’d like to make it official,” she wrote. “I identify as bisexual and have come to accept it for nearly 8 years now. This is not a phase/choice nor am I trying to impose my beliefs onto you. I ask for your acceptance and love, as this is a huge step in my life.”
In 2015, such announcements are routine on social media. But Hagan says that coming out as bisexual cost her a volunteer position as a message coordinator in the 908 student ministry, an official school club with a faculty advisor.
The Concordia University System is operated by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), a traditional Lutheran denomination that opposes same-sex marriage and teaches that “homosexual behavior is contrary to God’s Word and will.” Earlier this week, the LCMS, which claims over 2 million members, dissolved its official relationship with the Boy Scouts of America because it ended a ban on gay leaders this summer. But Hagan, who was raised in the Catholic Church, was mostly met with the love and acceptance she asked for in her Facebook announcement. Then, two weeks after her coming out post, she announced that she was in a relationship with a woman. Shortly afterward, she was removed from her position as a message coordinator the 908.
In a phone interview, Hagan told The Daily Beast that on November 11th, the student president of the 908 asked her in an “awkward” meeting if she was familiar with the LCMS position on homosexuality. After Hagan assured him that her sexual orientation would not interfere with her ability to coordinate speakers for the group, she says she was told: “We regret to inform you that you are forced to resign from your position as message coordinator.”
“I was obviously just sad, and broken and torn apart,” she said. “It was taken away from me and I didn’t know what to do.” But Hagan’s friends knew exactly what to do. They rallied around her, both online and in public. Fellow CSP students started a social media campaign under the hashtag #IStandWithNikki, demanding that the university address her ousting. This past week, they held a different event on campus every night. And on Friday, they hosted an outdoor rally on a cold December day in a display of solidarity with Hagan and other LGBT students.
In true Minnesota fashion, there was hot apple cider on tap. Students held up rainbow signs that say, “All Means All”—a reference to the official Concordia Promise, which describes the school as an “environment where Christ is honored, all are welcome, and Lutheran convictions inform intellectual inquiry and academic pursuits.” Hagan’s supporters are seeking an official apology from the university, and they want sexual orientation to be added to the school’s non-discrimination policy to ensure that students like her have a method of recourse in future incidents. The #IStandWithNikki website alleges that, initially, these concerns were not taken seriously. “We asked for a public apology and clarification and received nothing,” it says. “We asked for policy changes, and it was brushed to the side.”
Hagan’s advocates also say that, when they asked for an LGBT group on campus, the President suggested an open group with one advisor “for same-sex relationships” and one advisor who is “against same-sex relationships.” “We were not too happy about that response,” the website states.
A spokesperson for CSP President Rev. Tom Ries told The Daily Beast that “this [incident] occurred as a result of a discussion between students that led to Nikki feeling she should step down” and that the president learned of her dismissal from the 908 a few days later.
The spokesperson added: “Concordia University, St. Paul believes that Nikki stepping down from her role happened too quickly and prevented the continuation of a meaningful dialogue around matters of sexual orientation in the context of the Concordia Mission and Promise statements.”
But Nikki disputes the university’s account that she stepped down after a discussion, as if she had any choice in the matter. “No, no, no, no,” she said, when The Daily Beast read her the university’s description of the incident. She was ousted, she maintains. And even if she could resume her leadership role with the 908, she wouldn’t feel very welcome after the conversation she had.
“I don’t want my position back,” she said. “I don’t want to be put back into a position where I felt so uncomfortable in the first place.”
According to the Pioneer Press, the 908 student president received counsel from university pastor Tom Gundermann who said that he “did not instruct him to let her go that night” but personally agrees with his decision.
“I failed to slow the process down and include more people in the situation,” he told the local paper.
As for the calls to add sexual orientation to CSP’s non-discrimination policy, President Ries’s spokesperson simply acknowledged that “the president has heard the requests from our student body to review student handbook policies and craft a student support group where students and faculty from all sides of the sexual identity issue come together.”
Hagan says that, despite the mixed response #IStandWithNikki has faced so far, she is optimistic that CSP can change and she is humbled by the support that she’s received from her peers. “It’s such a cool inspirational thing to see so many people getting together for a cause that is so much bigger than me,” she said.