WENHAM — Alumni of all ages gathered at the First Church in Wenham Friday night to connect and discuss issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community at Gordon College.
Paul Miller, who graduated from the Christian college in 2008, stood near the entryway of the church wearing a T-shirt emblazoned, “I love Gordon.” He leads a group called One Gordon, which aims to get alumni talking following a move by the college’s president, D. Michael Lindsay, to join other religious groups in asking for an exemption to federal workplace protections for gay and transgender people.
“We’re advocating for change,” said Miller, who graduated from Gordon with a degree in English literature.
About 50 people filled the pews of the church, many of them wearing rainbow-colored accessories.
“Many of us loved our Gordon experience,” Miller said, “but we think it could be better.”
Alumni in the church were people both gay and straight, many of whom brought their spouses and children.
Kirk Vanacore brought his 17-month-old son Lucca.
“Personally, I think Gordon should change its policy,” said Vanacore, who received a bachelor’s degree in history from Gordon in 2010 and is currently taking classes there as a graduate student.
He said he is planning to transfer schools as a direct result of Gordon’s stance with the gay community.
“I’ve had a lot of friends that are gay at Gordon,” Vanacore said. “I thought things were making a change. . . . It brings to light that it wasn’t.”
The One Gordon group wanted to call its actions a presence rather than a protest, said Miller. He planned the event for this weekend since it is also Gordon College’s homecoming weekend.
On Saturday, the group planned to have a lunch on the college’s quad.
Hannah Groder-Brooks attended the event Friday as an ally and also because she was close friends with Miller during college.
When she heard of president Lindsay’s actions during the summer, she felt frustrated.
“It completely shut down the conversation,” she said. “We want Gordon to be an open and safe place for everyone.”
After the crowd mingled, Miller addressed the alumni. He spoke of looking for other gay alumni when he was a student and finding none. People settled comfortably into the pews as he spoke, laughing, cheering, and clapping for his comments.
Miller also had a petition for alumni to sign. He said to cheers that he had 800 signatures by the evening.
One Gordon also hopes to connect with current students. The college has 1,736 undergraduate students, according to its website.
A spokesperson for the college was not immediately available for comment Friday night.
Melanie MacFarlane, from the class of 1991, was sitting in the middle of the church.
“We’re sad and angry,” she said. “We are a community of much more open-minded people.”
She said she believes the board of trustees is at fault, alongside Lindsay.
“The power lies with a few wealthy trustees,” she said. “It’s not who we are.”
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Melissa Hanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.