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California Senate Candidate Chose Two Antigay Schools -- Mary A. Fischer

Photo: Olivia Blinn/The Chimes

Phlunte Riddle Failed to Fight Discrimination Against LGBT People

When current California state senate candidate Phlunte Riddle decided to teach in sociology at Biola University, the campus in southeast L.A. County was buzzing about gay students and Biola’s official policies against them. An underground gay student group described a climate of repression at the Christian school leaving them “isolated” and “fearful of rejection.” Several spoke of considering suicide.

Administrators confirmed that openly LGBT people must leave the La Mirada campus.

Riddle’s decision in 2013 to teach at Biola amid debate about LGBT people and dangers to their wellbeing on campus shows a second instance where she sought out a school that discriminates against them. Now running as a Democrat to represent Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, and Claremont in the state senate, Riddle faces criticism over the harsh anti-LGBT stance of an Altadena ministry where she also signed up to teach. In neither case did Riddle take action to challenge the antigay policies.

The candidate has characterized the reporting on her ties to the Altadena school as an “attack on her beliefs” and “guilt by association.” But Riddle has failed to criticize either the Altadena school or its parent church, despite inflammatory statements on its Web site tying gay people to “the Evil One.”

Critical attention of the first-time candidate is not guilt by association, but concern about her choice of affiliation—and her failure to fight anti-LGBT bias.

Critical attention of the first-time candidate is not guilt by association, but concern about her choice of affiliation—and her failure to fight anti-LGBT bias.

Formerly in law enforcement, Riddle must appreciate the importance of evidence in responding to questions and direct, honest answers. She has not provided either.

But Riddle did welcome positive media coverage from Biola for her candidacy for state senate, citing her “leadership” and “Christ-centered ethics,” a phrase some consider code for anti-abortion and anti-LGBT stands. Her leadership clearly did not extend to working for respect or inclusion of LGBT people at Biola or challenging systemic bias or humiliation.

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In 2013, students had to fight to remove material recommending so-called reparative therapy for LGBT people from the Biola health center. They were barred, however, from presenting a panel discussion about their own brushes with the practice. The discredited treatment aims to “cure” gay people, particularly teens and young adults, of same-sex desire and attraction. Evidence links the practice to guilt, depression, and self-harm by those subjected to it. In 2012, California lawmakers became the first in the nation to approve a statewide ban on reparative therapy. The bill, SB 1172, passed the legislature, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law.

Biola University—where Riddle is still affiliated as an adjunct professor, according to a spokesman—asserts the only “legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship” is a “heterosexual union between one genetic male and one genetic female.” The school also takes a hard line against women’s right to choose, insisting “life begins at conception. We abhor the destruction of innocent human life through abortion on demand.”

The Harvest School of Ministry, the college-level Christian academy in Altadena where Riddle also signed up to teach in 2013, enforces a “code of conduct” that prohibits “homosexual conduct.” Students who violate the code, it says, “will be subject to discipline” and are "liable for instant suspension or expulsion.”

This spring, just as Riddle was sitting with the Biola newspaper, the campus was engulfed in debate about a screening arranged by the college of the movie “Sing Over Me.” The documentary, directed and filmed by Biola alumni, features a man who claims to be an “ex-gay” and helped lead a discredited antigay organization, Exodus International. The group once supported reparative therapy and shut down in 2013 after disclosures of its involvement in promoting cruel antigay policies in other countries, some used to justify violence.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students at Biola describe an environment of persecution similar to that of anti-LGBT hotspots overseas. One student even reported intimidation in the sociology department where Riddle teaches. “Most of us in the group live with daily paranoia and fear, which is quite physically, emotionally, and spiritually unhealthy,” several LGBT students told Inside Higher Education. Students also see an intense need for allies. "Most LGBTQ people feel isolated and fearful of rejection should we act with integrity and come out of the closet," they wrote.

Biola flirted with the coercive therapy outlawed by California lawmakers. Passing that law was not the work of bystanders to LGBT discrimination. It required tenacious effort by strong allies in the very legislature that Riddle wants to join. Voters cannot trust a bystander to lead in overcoming bias and mistreatment.

Who is Phlunte Riddle? She is a candidate for state senate who chose to work at two antigay schools and in the face of anti-LGBT discrimination did nothing.

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Mary A. Fischer