WENHAM — Another community has officially severed ties with Gordon College over its policy toward gays and lesbians.
The Lynn School Committee voted 4-3 Thursday night to end a decadelong partnership with the Christian liberal arts school.
“We should not be compromising on an issue of civil rights,” School Committee member Charlie Gallo said.
The vote terminates the Gordon in Lynn program, a partnership between the college and the city in which Gordon students mentored Lynn public school students.
Many people praised the program during an emotional, hourlong public hearing and said they were reluctant to lose it, but they also said the city should not tolerate Gordon’s policy toward gays and lesbians.
That policy was thrust into the spotlight when college President Michael Lindsay signed a July 1 letter urging President Obama to exempt religious institutions from a rule prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.
The letter prompted the city of Salem and Peabody Essex Museum to terminate programs with Gordon College. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ higher education commission, which accredits colleges, is scheduled to meet with Gordon officials in September to discuss the college’s policy.
Val Buchanan, who oversees the Gordon in Lynn program for the college, suggested a compromise in which the Lynn School Committee would retain the program but require participating Gordon students to sign a nondiscriminatory statement.
Buchanan, who lives in Lynn, told committee members she was “sorry for the damage that (the controversy over Lindsay’s letter) has caused.”
“I’m not asking you to agree with or condone the stance Gordon College has taken,” she said. “There has been over 120,000 hours of tutoring and mentoring Lynn youth with only positive outcomes.”
Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, who serves as chairwoman of the School Committee, voted to retain the program. Kennedy said she disagrees with Gordon’s position, calling it “archaic and stupid,” but does not want to lose a program that has been so valuable to the city.
“That clash, in my opinion, is taking place at the upper level of Gordon College, not down where their students are interacting with our students,” she said. “I have never heard a complaint about any Gordon College students having proselytized to a Lynn public school student.”
But several residents urged the committee to end its relationship with the college. Steven Harrington, a Lynn resident and executive director of the North Shore Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, said he attended Bowdoin College 40 years ago and appeared to be doing well as an honor roll student and captain of the basketball team.
“I was popular, but inside I was desperate and depressed and suicidal,” he said. “I realized I was gay and that my future was sad. For those people who are struggling with their sexuality, with their ability to cope, with their sense of self-worth, it’s these small instances of prejudice, when they are accepted, that do tremendous damage.”
A spokesman for Gordon College said the school is “very disappointed” in the School Committee’s decision to end the 11-year-old partnership.
“Our relationship with Lynn has been highly valued by Gordon and mutually beneficial to our campus and the city of Lynn and its residents,” spokesman Rick Sweeney said. “We had made real efforts to engage positively on the concerns expressed by Lynn officials. We remain hopeful we can find common ground toward healing the relationship, despite this surprising action by the School Committee.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.