Lincoln Christian University
In 2009, Kalie Hargrove enrolled in Lincoln Christian University to pursue a Masters in Divinity – but after two years, she put her education on hold to join the military in order to provide a better life for her wife and child.
After serving just under nine years as a member of the United States Air Force – and receiving an honorable discharge – Kalie returned to Lincoln to resume her studies. She started back part-time in 2019 while finishing her service in the Air Force and then began attending classes fulltime in 2020, determined to finish her degree. This time around, part of her tuition was covered by the Montgomery GI bill, due to her long military career.
But it wasn’t until after she had registered for classes in 2019 that she began to accept her own identity as a transgender woman – and in 2020, she finally began transitioning to live as the woman she knew herself to be.
In August 2021, Kalie received an email from Lincoln administration, accusing her of “choosing to identify and live as a transgender woman,” basing their findings on an assortment of blog posts and academic papers that Kalie had written. Identifying as transgender, according to Lincoln, was a violation of the Student Handbook and constituted a “lifestyle choice that did not comply with our behavioral expectations.”
“Lincoln presented me with a choice,” Kalie recalls. “I could remain enrolled and be referred to
the Disciplinary Committee for further action, or I could drop my classes and no further action would be taken.”
Kalie was shocked – especially because she had already looked to ensure that Lincoln was a Title IX compliant school, which she believed would ensure that Lincoln could not discriminate against her as an LGBTQ student. But what she didn’t realize is that Lincoln is one of 200+ religious colleges nationwide that is granted a religious exemption from the U.S. Department of Education, allowing the school to mistreat LGBTQ students while still receiving federal taxpayer funding.
It wasn’t until Kalie saw news of REAP’s lawsuit that she realized that the religious exemption our case was challenging in court may be the very religious exemption that could allow Lincoln to expel her. “It was an ‘oh, crap’ moment for me,” she says.
To complicate matters, because Kalie’s tuition was financed through the GI bill, she knew she would be expected to repay the government nearly $7,000 if for any reason she could not complete the semester.
Kalie knew that she couldn’t bring herself to stand before the disciplinary committee. “To put yourself in front of a group of people who will look at you as an unrepentant sinner, who reject who you are, that is not a situation I should be in, and I decided not to.”
Ultimately, Kalie decided to drop her classes.
“This was more than just academic discipline for me. You must understand that this is the
tradition I grew up in, 18 years of my life in my parents’ house was being part of this Christian
church, 4 years of bible college at an independent Christian church college. This had been the
sole tradition I had been in for over 30 years of my life. I faced the rejection and censure of not
just the school because the school’s rejection sent a message to my community that somehow I
had failed in, or was not worthy of, my calling to the ministry.”
After leaving Lincoln, Kalie felt desperate and ready to give up on her career in the ministry. Thankfully, as news of her situation grew, another school offered her admission. But all of her credits didn’t transfer – and even with the opportunity of finishing her degree at a new school, she is now scheduled to graduate nearly one year later than expected.
This experience made clear to Kalie that she could not remain silent – which is why she joined REAP’s lawsuit, alongside dozens of other students nationwide, demanding that the DoED stop granting the religious exemption that Lincoln used to discriminate against her as a transgender woman.
“I am still not over the emotional and mental harm. There are a lot of painful emotions that come from being discriminated against. Traumatic experiences don’t simply go away.
“That the government allows and funds this discrimination feels like the government doesn’t see you as a full person. They say they are against discrimination against people, but they allow it against you, so the implication is you are not full people. There is so much in the world that makes LGBT persons feel dehumanized, and the way the Government handles Title IX is just another way we are made to feel less than.”
At many religious schools, colleges, and universities, LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized students suffer discrimination, abuse, isolation, and hardship. If this describes you, you are not alone. We are in this together.
REAP fights for the safety, bodily autonomy, justice, and human rights of LGBTQIA+ and other communities marginalized at many predominantly white, taxpayer-funded religious schools and colleges. Using campus organizing, storytelling through podcasting, documentary film, and speaking and preaching on campuses throughout the country, REAP empowers students, faculty, staff and alumni at these institutions to advocate for human rights, while shining a light on the dangers and abuses of a major educational pipeline of white Christian Supremacy.