WEEKLY EXCLUSIVE: Standing with Adam
Students at Azusa Pacific Christian college support transgender teacher with petition and demonstrations
By Sonia Puente 10/04/2013
A longtime Azusa Pacific University theology professor who recently changed her gender found widespread support from students who defended the teacher during a campus demonstration Wednesday. In addition, more than 2,000 people have signed a petition in support of the professor.
At the protest, students, who wore specially made T-shirts backing 47-year-old Heath Adam Ackley, formerly Heather Clements, called on administrators to allow Ackley to continue teaching at the Christian college.
“Our motive was simply to send a sign of love to Adam, as well as a message to the university that we don’t approve of the decisions they’ve made,” said student organizer Jordyn Sun.
According to NBC News, Ackley is still teaching at APU. But, according to university President Jon Wallace, Ackley’s employment status is still under discussion.
Wallace did not return calls for comment. Ackley and his attorney, Paul Southwick, declined to comment for this report.
In a Sept. 20 letter emailed to faculty and the university’s more than 10,000 students, Wallace called for memo recipients to “be in prayer for our faculty member, for our students, and for our community as we walk together through this complex issue, striving to reflect Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to work through each of us.”
But when it came to Ackley’s actual status as a teacher at the school, the president disputed the professor’s previous statement that he had been fired, claims which were posted to Facebook but have since been removed.
“Two weeks ago, the university entered into thoughtful conversations with a theology faculty member who now identifies as transgender. That unfolding dialogue seeks to honor the long and rich contribution to the academy while upholding the values of the university and leaning into our Wesleyan theological tradition of respect, care, and hospitality,” Wallace wrote.
However, he noted, “The faculty member’s Facebook posting on Thursday and news reports thereafter contain inaccuracies about this process.”
Ackley, Wallace wrote, “later deleted the status, acknowledging that the word choice regarding employment status was not careful enough. It remains an ongoing conversation and a confidential personnel matter.”
Ackley said he decided to recognize his transgender identity after the American Psychiatric Association removed “gender identity disorder” from the list of mental illnesses in its manual, according to a story that appeared on the Religion News Service Web site.
“He has served as an educator and chair for the Diversity Council at APU for 15 years and now is being asked to leave simply because his gender identity is seen as intolerable,” said Sun, a senior sociology major. “Personally, it is devastating for me and many others who are invested in the APU community and had faith our institution was moving forward in a positive and loving direction.”
On Tuesday, APU alumni Matthew Seymour purchased 200 T-shirts, which were later spray-painted with the words “We Stand with Adam.”
During the next morning’s chapel session, more than 150 people wore the T-shirts. Others carried signs outside the chapel, one that read “Ignorance, Hate, Money First. God Second.”
By Thursday, 2,280 people had signed a petition in support of Ackley, said Sun. The petition was created by Aly Thatcher, co-president of Haven, APU‘s gay/straight alliance club, which meets off campus.
“As someone who identifies as gay and also as a Christian, I came to see there is a lot of reconciliation that needs to happen within APU to humanize the LGBTQ community. And I believe that the most effective way to do that is to put a face to an issue and own up to my own story,” Sun said.