In an open letter to the community, Gonzaga University’s Young Life chapter decided to disband this semester. The reason for disbanding is Young Life's national policy prohibiting any LGBTQ+ person from holding a leadership position within Young Life.
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As a collective leadership team, we say goodbye to GU YoungLife today. We have so loved our time together, but have decided that we can no longer stand with this organization in its current state. Please take some time to read our goodbye letter in the link in the bio❤️ The community we have built here will remain, so please reach out and stay connected. We love you Ohana!
Immediately, the club received backlash for its action. The letter, posted on the club’s Instagram (@guyounglife) caused waves in the Young Life national organization. Within 24 hours, Young Life headquarters demanded the password to the club’s Instagram, threatening to take down the letter. Once in control, Young Life changed the password, locking GU Young Life leaders out of the account.
The reaction from Young Life shocked members of GU’s chapter. A former club leader, Emilya Ramsey, believes that Young Life’s reaction to the club’s disbanding signals fear.
“They’re afraid of what we did," Ramsey said. "We’re the first region of the United States to publicly quit.”
Young Life's official Sexual Health Policy states that an unhealthy sexuality is, “sexual intimacy outside of a heterosexual marriage relationship.”
When an issue of unhealthy sexuality arises, the policy states, “the supervisor, in consultation with Human Resources, may decide or require a leave of absence,” and “Young Life may take immediate disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”
GU’s policy on non discrimination states “Gonzaga University does not discriminate against any person on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” a guideline that was unknowingly violated by GU Young Life.
This is not the first time Young Life has faced issues on a college campus. In 2019, Duke University’s Student Government Senate voted not to recognize the organization because of its anti-LGBTQ+ stance.
However, this is the first time a Young Life chapter decided to disband because of the anti-LGBTQ+ policy internally.
Ramsey wrote the letter announcing the disbanding. When she learned of the anti-LGBTQ+ views and policies of Young Life, she said, “It felt like a betrayal.”
Ramsey has been involved with YL since high school. She led summer camps for the organization and became a leader of GU’s Young Life chapter when she arrived on campus. She enjoyed the weekly meetings where the club would assemble to interact, play games and share faith stories together.
Last year, Ramsey learned of the anti-LGBTQ+ policy of Young Life from another student leader who later quit the club. Ramsey wanted to build a dialogue about the policy in the club but became frustrated.
“There were rumblings around our leadership team about [the policy] but there was no leadership to bring it up directly," Ramsey said.
At the end of last semester, Ramsey decided to quit. In a private meeting, she shared her reason for departure with other leaders. In the ensuing weeks, three other leaders stepped down from positions in the club.
During the summer, an Instagram account called @dobetter_younglife started to call attention to Young Life’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies, mirroring the discussions had amongst GU Young Life leadership. The account, which has 10,300 followers, brought mass public attention to the discriminatory practices of Young Life.
Another former club member, Caroline Larson, was surprised to see the 'Do Better Young Life' page. “My hope is that Young Life will take a look into this page,” Larson said.
Some members of the club wished to continue the organization with the goal of fixing the problem from the inside, including the GU Young Life director.
By the time the school year started, though, it was obvious that Young Life would not change its stance. The GU Young Life director, whom Ramsey had talked to about the discriminatory policy, resigned from his post and left the organization.
When the club reconvened at the start of the semester, the remaining members decided that the club needed to end.
“This [discrimination] is not something we agree with and something that we do not want to perpetuate.”
Amid the strong backlash from Young Life headquarters, there is a sentiment of melancholy among former members.
Ramsey said that the actions of Young Life are not living up to the potential good that the organization can do.
Larson said that she is “proud of Gonzaga Young Life for taking their stance.”
Ramsey echoed the sentiment. “I don’t think Gonzaga has lost anything," Ramsey said. "I think Gonzaga has gained the potential to create a new kind of community that is inclusive. If it’s not serving everyone, it’s not serving anyone.”