CLEMSON- Beth Stuart never imagined she would be graduating with her doctorate in education jobless.
Now she believes she is unemployed after 10 years of successful employment with Southern Wesleyan University because of her refusal to disavow support for a campus group for gay students and their allies.
When asked to comment on Stuart’s departure, Vice President of Enrollment Management Chad Peters declined on behalf of the university. When asked about the university’s policies toward homosexuality in general, Peters said the university has lifestyle expectations for all employees.
The root of Beth Stuart’s support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community is her son, Ethan, who identifies as transgender, she says.
She and her son spoke about their recent life journeys for the first time publicly at Peace Congregational Church in Clemson on July 21.
In 2010, at age 28, Ethan began his physical transition from female to male.
The theme of the July 21 sermon was living on the margins of society.
“It’s time for churches to embrace the LGBT community,” said Stuart. “We need to quit pretending we have all the answers. We don’t.”
When Ethan was a five-year-old little girl, he told his mother that he wished God had made him a boy. Ethan says his struggle only became more difficult with time, coming out as a lesbian in high school and, eventually, physically transitioning to being male.
The past few months haven’t been easy for Stuart. After refusing to withdraw support for SWUnity her contract with the university was not renewed in May.
She considered SWU her family. “I wanted to make a difference,” she said to the congregation. “I wanted to grow that university.”
She has also had to manage her fears about what others will think. A self-proclaimed people pleaser, she always tried to “write inside the lines.”
But her conviction on this issue outweighs her fear. “I never wanted to rock a boat except for this one,” she said.
After the sermon delivered by Stuart and her son, the crowd was moved to a standing ovation.
One woman stood up, introducing herself as “a 70-year-old lesbian and proud” to cheers. “You telling your story heals so many years of pain for me,” she said.
To the pastor of Peace Congregational Church, Susie Smith, this is her mission. “We created Peace Congregational Church to be a place of hope for people who didn’t have hope,” she said.
Susie Smith, who identifies as lesbian, began Peace Church in 2007 as a church that would be open and affirming of all people. She feels that this event has brought “a new level of energy and excitement about the work we’re doing.”
After the sermon, Beth Stuart exclaimed that she was “on cloud nine.”
“I don’t know how I’m going to matter in this margin, but I’ve never felt so at peace in my life.”