Protesters express anguish, anger over Belmont coach's departure

Sunday, December 5, 2010 at 6:36pm

Belmont University students, athletes and graduates weathered frigid elements Sunday afternoon to protest the departure of women’s soccer coach Lisa Howe, who recently disclosed to her team that her same-sex partner was pregnant.

Belmont said in a statement Friday “there was a mutual agreement that it would be in the best interests of both Coach Howe and the university for her to conclude her employment as coach.” This, however, came a day after the university said in a statement she resigned and athletics director Mike Strickland said “this was a decision Coach Howe made.”

Members of the team said she didn’t resign nor was it mutual but that Howe was fired because she revealed her sexual orientation. Belmont soccer players Erica Carter, Laura Harris and Kailee Hawkins attended the protest, which was organized by Guy Farmer.

Farmer, a Belmont alum, spread the word about the protest within 24 hours, creating a Facebook group to spark interest. Farmer said he has several gay friends and the fact that they might feel “unwanted” at Belmont upset him.

“You’re a freshman coming from a school in Indiana and you are stuck in the closet your whole life ... you come to a higher learning institution and the first thing you find out is the soccer coach is fired because she is a lesbian. That is not what higher learning is about and that is not what love and compassion is about,” Farmer, 28, said. “The lack of compassion and love they showed to Coach Howe, I’m embarrassed to be a part of Belmont right now. I’m out here to clear the name [of Belmont] and to show the people we are here to go make some good changes.”

Nearly 50 protestors stood on the corner of Belmont Boulevard and Bernard Street on the edge of campus. As snow flurries trickled down, signs were raised that read “We Heart and Support Coach Howe,” “Discrimination is Not Love,” “Jesus Loves Coach Howe,” “Belmont is Dirty” and “Equality.”

Carter, a senior who graduates in two weeks, held a sign that read “NOH8" [no hate].

“I feel like it is a bigger issue than just what has happened at Belmont,” Carter said. “I feel like it needs to be addressed on a larger scale and it is just unacceptable to discriminate against anyone for any reason. I am a little nervous [about being at the protest], but I had to think about it a lot and I don’t think nerves or being scared should affect the way I feel about something that is absolutely right.”

Harris said she didn’t hesitate to come out and support her coach.

She, however, has a little bit more to lose by speaking her mind than Carter maybe does. Harris, just a sophomore, still has two years left at Belmont but she said she wasn’t going to let anything prevent her from “standing up for what I know is right.”

“I love Belmont and really love the school. I thought it stood for everything I believed in. Based on the student population and the student body, it does stand for the things I believe in,” Harris said. “But the decision made by people in charge just completely went against everything that I thought that Belmont had. It churned in my stomach — it still is churning in my stomach. It is embarrassing.

“People are furious outside of Belmont, but I don’t want them looking at Belmont thinking this is what we stand for because it is not. It is a decision made by a couple people.”

Howe’s departure comes just a couple months after the university denied a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender group’s request to be recognized as a student organization. Members of the LGBT group, Bridge Builders, were on hand and passed around a petition for students to sign.

Layne Walton is a sophomore at Belmont and a member of Bridge Builders. He said he came to the protest to show his support for Howe, her players and gay students who are at Belmont or are thinking about attending the school in the future.

“I think that if it is any indication of the level of backwards thinking at the school’s administrative level, then the wrong person was forced to resign. Give Lisa Mike Strickland’s job,” Walton said. “President Bob Fisher has presided over the meteoric rise of the school’s reputation over the past several years, but I think he has also presided over its tarnishing within about month. ... To future students who might happen to be gay, I hope this doesn’t deter you from coming to Belmont. I think it is important to remember that presidents and board members will come and go but there will always be gays — students, faculty and staff at Belmont University.”

With Howe’s exit, Belmont senior Taylor Blackwell is concerned about what this could mean for other Belmont employees.

“I am worried about the jobs of our other gay and lesbian professors,” Blackwell said. “This is the first time Belmont has gone beyond a neutral position in recent history. They are either going to have to go in one direction and be a church school or continue our climb to being a nationally respected university.”

While the protest drew in Belmont students and supporters of the cause, it also attracted those walking and driving by.

Melvin G. Talbert, a retired bishop in the United Methodist Church, heard about the protest and drove by to send a message to the protestors that they aren’t alone with their feelings. Talbert said the United Methodist Church has “on our books a law that says some terrible things about gay and lesbian people. But even though the politics prevail, I don’t have to agree with that decision."

“I am here to simply say to these young people that I think their cause is right,” he said. “I wanted to give them encouragement and hope that justice will prevail, even though we live in a society where institutions have constructed laws to exclude people. Within my heart, and I think in the hearts of these young people, we know that such laws are unjust. I believe that those of us who are on the side of justice, we need to band together and work for justice by removing such discriminating laws.”

17 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 12/5/10 at 6:50

I wish it had been around zero degrees so that we could really see the resolve of these protesters. 32 degrees is weather far too mild for a worthless protest.

By: Money4U on 12/5/10 at 7:15

To begin with, if you are a homosexual pervert then, you shouldnt be attending Belmont to begin with and need to be thrown out also. In case you need someone to educate you, your mouth and tongue are for tasting, eating and talking. Your rear is for food waste. Your tooty is for urninating, having babies and a mans private part, fits there, not your tongue or, some plastic.shaped like a mans private part. To say Jesus loves a homosexual is total ignorance and complete lack of bible study. The scripture clearly says homosexuals are perverted and is lust burning in their minds and it also says, it disgusts God. Look for your own self. Doesnt even nature tell you there is something wrong with the picture of men with men and women with women? You sure are not a Christian, you are disgusting people. To agree with you to just leave you alone because its your chosen lifestyle would open the door for the perverted father who wants his own daughter or, some pervert that wants an animal. You are no different. What will you say to them when they say, "leave me alone, its my chosen lifestyle?"

By: Money4U on 12/5/10 at 8:20

If a homosexual says they were born like that then, you would have to also buy the same kind of thinking when, a muslim fanatic who wants to kill non muslims says he was born like that. Of course he wasnt, someone and/or some thing such as written material and film brainwashed him and he bdoesnt ever realize it. Porn in all forms can warp a persons mind and so can our friend if we stay around perverted people.

By: left on 12/5/10 at 8:50

GOD loves the person,hates the sin!

By: Money4U on 12/5/10 at 9:10

" Jacob I love, Essau, I hate"

By: gmckelvey on 12/5/10 at 9:20

One thing you learn in lifes lessons is you don't throw gasoline on a fire, not unless you don't care who gets burned. Belmont has been and is a private, religious based institution located in the heart of the "Bible Belt". The recent firing of Ms Howe and the uproar it has created, begs to ask the question, what the hell was she thinking? If you don't want your private life to become public, it is wise to watch what you say and who you say it to. She and her partner could have skated around this issue by using a little discretion. What's more importan, coaching the soccer team, raising your child in peace or getting fired and stirring up a media storm just to advertise and promote your lifestyle.

By: rmd2a1 on 12/5/10 at 10:18

Why is there such a strong negative reaction from Belmont University officials, and some posters to this news story? Is it because they are all ignorant of the ACTUAL HISTORY of Belmont University? Belmont was originally a woman's school that was run by Miss. Hereon & Miss. Hood. These women never married and lived together for many years. Every historian I have talked to (including some of those that work in the Belmont Mansion) that is familiar with the university agrees that they were...*gasp*...lesbians! So, the university that was founded by a pair of lesbians can't seem to find it allowable to have one on it's staff. Onward Christian Soldiers indeed.

By: cookeville on 12/5/10 at 10:29

But for the accident of birth, all of you who trash what you fear, would be in the same place as this woman. You have no business EVER thinking you are superior to anyone else. You were born as you are and they were born as they are. So who are you to judge anyone when you could have very well been them? Judge not that you be not judged. You have now all been judged wanting, for you have made yourselves high and mighty instead of extending the LOVE of GOD to each and every one of his sons/daughters. And that will come back on you as it always does, sooner or later.

By: manicsquirrel on 12/6/10 at 8:39

What's interesting about the comments of you religious fanatics is that the belief in religion is one of the most mutable characteristics a person can have. You can choose not to believe your hate-filled mythic hogwash.

Even still, all of you that are so obsessed with what a person does with the rear end, know that a person can be gay and celibate. A person can be gay and be a virgin. Otherwise, no one is heterosexual until they loose their virginity.

Deep down in my heart their is a soft spot for ignorant bigots. I long for a place where they can live and worship in peace and burn one another at the stake as they see fit.

By: pswindle on 12/6/10 at 9:05

This Bible-belt folk is what is wrong with TN.

By: Loretta Bridge on 12/6/10 at 9:24

I can not understand what a person's sexual orientation has to do with making them a good or bad teacher or coach. If we use that as part of qualifications then I guess Belmont and most colleges should just close down their performing arts departments.
Lights out on Broadway. At least this woman is not lying to people unlike the many ministers and Priest that say they are serving God. I would not want my children to go to Belmont what I thought was a great university. This is truly very sad.

By: yogiman on 12/6/10 at 9:55

I think the main issue is why does anyone want the public to know what their sexual preferences are. Homosexuals have been on this earth since the beginning of time.

With this new "I'm gay attitude", why doesn't everyone want the world to know what their own sexual desires are. It should be kept in your damned bedroom. Who cares what you do, except your partner.

By: global_citizen on 12/6/10 at 10:06

"To agree with you to just leave you alone because its your chosen lifestyle would open the door for the perverted father who wants his own daughter"

Funny you should mention that, Money4U. The Bible says not one word about fathers having a sexual relationship with their own daughters. Go ahead, try to find it.

So apparently if the Bible doesn't condemn it, it's OK. God hates gays, but fathers who molest their own daughters is A-OK with God? Talk about perverted. The Bible is definitely perverted.

To yogiman: "why does anyone want the public to know what their sexual preferences are". Get real and get your head out of talk radio talking points. You try going one week without talking about your wife/girlfriend, kids or other family. People talk about their personal lives. You're demanding that gays/lesbians keep their mouths shut about their personal lives just to appease you. The world does not revolve around you. Be a grown up and deal with our pluralistic society.

By: not_guilty on 12/6/10 at 4:30

global_citizen, the Bible does mention father-daughter incest. Lot's daughters got their father drunk and had sex with him.

FWIW, the Book of Genesis is chock full of sex scenes.

I remain puzzled about Coach Howe's situation at Belmont. It appears that she was in a stable, long-term lesbian relationship, which her employer tolerated. The stories that I have read don't mention the particulars of how the coach's partner conceived, but I am confident that it was not through any lesbian sexual act.

From the University's perspective, what was the urgency that prompted the dismissal?

By: yogiman on 12/6/10 at 4:32

Sorry, global_citizen.

I'm too damned old to grow up to accept with our current society. I'm used to the 'old time ways'. And you are wrong on your assertion all men run around telling each other what they do with their wives. Talking about them is one thing, as long as it is a positive nature. It is a sadden situation when a man tells his 'friends' about his 'in bed' times with his wife... or hell, even his 'girl friend'.

By: brrrrk on 12/6/10 at 4:44

Well I see that the bigots are out shining brightly in the sun today. Too bad the sun in Tennessee doesn't act like a disinfectant like it does in other parts of the country.

By: brrrrk on 12/6/10 at 4:48

yogiman said

"I think the main issue is why does anyone want the public to know what their sexual preferences are. Homosexuals have been on this earth since the beginning of time."

I suppose the world would be perfect if all blacks could change to white around you like a chameleon. But now you can't beat up on blacks like you used to.... so who's the next defenseless group for you to harass? Gays.