Reaction grows to gay student’s expulsion from Baptist college

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – The news that his boyfriend, Jason Johnson, was expelled from University of the Cumberlands was still sinking in when Zac Dreyer sat at a computer to spread the news.

“He is being asked to leave the university because he is gay,” Dreyer wrote Thursday on the Web site MySpace.com, the same site school officials used to confront Johnson. “Help get the story out there so that all the gays and lesbians at the university will no longer have to live in secrecy, in fear of having their dreams crushed in front of them.”

Within a few hours, friends and students at the small Baptist college in Williamsburg, Ky., were commenting in blogs about Johnson’s expulsion. The buzz grew over the weekend, and by early this week the issue drew reaction from legislators in Frankfort and on gay advocacy organizations’ Web sites nationwide.

Johnson, a sophomore majoring in theater arts, was expelled from the university Thursday because he declared online that he is gay.

In a statement released last week, the university’s president, Jim Taylor said students are held to a “higher standard” and that “students know the rules before they come to this institution.”

But a copy of the student handbook provided by the university confirmed the policy was not spelled out in 2003-04, when Johnson chose to attend. The school did not provide a copy of the policy for the 2004-05 school year.

The 2005-06 student handbook says: “Any student who engages in or promotes sexual behavior not consistent with Christian principles (including sex outside marriage and homosexuality) may be suspended or asked to withdraw.”

School officials said that although the 2003-04 policy did not explicitly mention homosexuality, it did say that students must “conduct themselves, on and off the campus, in a manner which is consistent with the objectives of the College and with its standards of conduct.”

Renee Kuder, a University of the Cumberlands senior and a friend of Johnson, says many students worry they’ll be punished if they discuss the case online or in the media. Some students declined to comment for this story, or did not return messages.

But some students are publicly questioning the school’s values, Kuder said. Many wore shirts with “God loves my gay friends” printed on them and are waiting for Johnson to let them know the best response to the university.

“They’re being hypocritical, by Christian standards,” Kuder said. “If we love each other, accept each other for who we are, why are they kicking him out? I almost feel like they’re trying to mold us, me, into a person that I wouldn’t want to be.

“There’s a letter in the student handbook that says everyone is a unique creation of God, you’re special, we care about you. They didn’t care if he didn’t have a place to go. They could have pretty much ruined his life.”

Johnson was confronted by two school officials Thursday. They showed Johnson his profile on MySpace.com, where he wrote about his boyfriend, then showed him the 2005-06 student handbook policy.

Johnson left the meeting with a letter that required him to leave the university that night. His parents, who helped him choose the Baptist school two years earlier, were “outraged,” he said. Along with Dreyer, who attends Eastern Kentucky University, they helped him move out of the dorm within hours.

“I was upset to the point that I couldn’t speak. I didn’t even want to ask about it,” said Johnson, who is considering attending the University of Kentucky or Eastern Kentucky University next fall. “I wanted to be out of there.”

Johnson, who is considering legal action against the university, said students shouldn’t question their faith, but they should question their personal beliefs.

“What I would hope is that their faith is renewed because people are standing up for what they believe in,” Johnson said. “It has strengthened my resolve, my beliefs, my faith, seeing the love and support.”



(Staff writers Art Jester and Frank Lockwood contributed to this report.)



(c) 2006, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.).

Visit Kentucky Connect, the World Wide Web site of the Herald-Leader, at http://www.kentuckyconnect.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-04-11-06 1712EDT

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