Last month, reports emerged that a Christian university in California had asked one of its professors, who had served the institution for 15 years, to leave his post after coming out as transgender.
Theology lecturer Heath Adam Ackley had been known as Heather Clements throughout his time at Azusa Pacific University. “This year has been a transition from being a mentally ill woman to being a sane, transgendered man,” he says in an article on the Huffington Post website.
The article explains that Professor Ackley was in the third year of his current five-year contract at APU, and states that although the university had agreed to pay him for this academic year, other academics would take over his current classes.
“I did not get a sense directly from the individuals with whom I was speaking that they had a theological problem with transgender identity,” Ackley says. “I did get the message that it has to do with their concern [about] other people, such as donors, parents and churches connected to the university.”
On her Christian Feminism Today blog, “writer, musician [and] photographer” Marg Herder offers to “translate” this quote.
“ ‘We don’t have a problem with you, it’s those other people we’re worried about. You know, the ones with the money’,” she writes. “Apparently in the view of the administration, allowing Ackley to stay on at Azusa Pacific would be a terrible business move.” She continues: “As is usual, capitalistic considerations trumped all others. I do wonder, though, if they realize that in making their request they have clearly illuminated which god their ‘Christian’ university serves. And I can’t help but hope more than a few people will notice.”
In a slideshow posted as a video on YouTube, Professor Ackley explains how he was “assigned female gender at birth”, but always felt like “a little boy”.
“As an evangelical university professor of ministry and theology, I tried even harder to conform to my misunderstanding of Christian womanhood,” he writes.
An online petition deploring APU for its stance has attracted thousands of signatures, along with comments from people showing solidarity with Professor Ackley.
“I came out as Trans on APU’s campus in 2010 and it was damn difficult. This prof deserves support,” writes one respondent named Ariadne Brazo. “Gender identity does not determine one’s ability to be a servant of God or a theology teacher,” adds Bethany Ulrich.
Writing on Twitter, attorney Paul Southwick (@PaulSouthwick) says he is “honored” to represent Professor Ackley during discussions with APU.
“He has not broken any university code,” he adds on the NBS Southern California news site. “There are no rules that prohibit gender transition. The only code they have is [to do with] homosexual conduct, but Adam has not [shown any] homosexual conduct.”
The Huffington Post article states that an APU spokeswoman “declined to discuss Ackley’s employment”.
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