A month after Matthew Wigmore came out to friends at his evangelical Christian university, he stood before his philosophy of sex and gender class to give a presentation on homosexuality and reparative therapy.
Mr. Wigmore, 19, felt vulnerable. Much of the presentation – which denounced the so-called treatment for homosexuality – was based on uncomfortable personal experiences.
However, the second-year theatre student felt bolstered by a supportive social circle at Trinity Western University, including friend and project partner Dillon James, who is also openly gay.
After a discussion that followed the October presentation, Mr. Wigmore asked if there were any dissenting viewpoints. A hand slowly went up.
“I personally read the King James Version [of the Bible],” the classmate said. “It’s hard for me to see how homosexuality is the right choice. How do you expect to get into heaven?”
A hush fell over the classroom. Before Mr. Wigmore could reply, another classmate interjected: “Well, you’re a woman and you’re speaking right now. Technically, [The Book of] Leviticus doesn’t allow that.”
Added Mr. James: “And you’re wearing a fur coat – something the Old Testament law wouldn’t approve of either.”
The conversation quickly ended, Mr. Wigmore recounts in an interview.
Trinity Western University is embroiled in controversy over a law school it hopes to open at its Langley campus. Critics point to a clause in a community covenant that requires all students, administrators and faculty to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” and call it discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. They question how a law school at such a university could possibly educate students on discrimination and equality rights.
The Law Society of B.C. is seeking opinions on whether the law school should go ahead, and Monday is the deadline for submissions. After reviewing reports, statutes and public input, the law society’s board of directors will then give its final word – likely at its April 11 meeting. Law societies in Nova Scotia and Ontario are also running public consultations.
Prominent lawyers, law professors, students and LGBTQ groups across Canada have decried the program as inherently discriminatory. Some firms said they would be unlikely to take TWU law school graduates, potentially limiting their mobility. Prominent Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby called the decision by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to approve the school “cowardly nonsense.”
At Dalhousie University, law professors unanimously approved a motion urging the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society not to approve the school’s law degrees. “TWU seems to have isolated just one segment of the population for second-class status,” said Archibald Kaiser, the Dalhousie law professor who put forward the motion. “I don’t see how it could possibly be acceptable to demean some members of its student body or to exclude some people from its faculty.”
The university views the criticism as unfair. President Bob Kuhn says it is based on reckless assumptions and calls it an attack on religious freedom in Canada. Robynne Healey, a history professor, co-director of the Gender Studies Institute and chair of the university senate, says she does not recognize the university depicted in the media.
“As a scholar, as a historian, I study people from the past and am pretty conscious of the things that make up their group identity,” she said. “I wonder if the people I study would recognize themselves in the way I write about them, because sometimes I don’t recognize myself in the way Trinity is being represented.”
Founded in 1962 and recognized as a degree-granting institution in 1979, TWU is a privately funded university that aims to combine a Christian worldview with a liberal arts foundation, according to school descriptions. More than 4,000 students attend the school’s four locations – a fifth is expected to open this year – and about 900 live on campus in Langley. According to a 2013 survey of first-year students by the Canadian University Survey Consortium, TWU ranked the highest out of 35 institutions in areas including satisfaction with quality of teaching, accessibility of professors outside of class and involvement in campus activities.