The following week, on Nov. 7, Chow braced herself as she walked into the next senate meeting. She had told her Christian community that she didn’t want any counterprotest activities, “because it won’t heal wounds.” Instead, a group of churches and campus fellowships gathered off campus at a church-rental facility and prayed for her while she attended the meeting. They sent a note to Chow: “You’re going to sit there and be yelled at, but at the same time, know that we’re praying for you, your team, and the LGBT community.”
At the meeting, a big group of protesters was ready for her. Someone had hung a giant banner behind her seat: “Senator Chow Resign Now!” Hundreds of students squeezed into the room to voice their hurt and rage. One by one, they stepped up to the microphone to address Chow.
According to the senate minutes, one student said she was a practicing Catholic who struggled to attend church after hearing Chow’s statement. Another said her gay brother struggled with drug addiction and depression because his conservative town refused to accept him. One student read the names of 22 transgender people who were killed, and condemned those who voted a “homophobic and transphobic” candidate into office. Many quoted Bible verses like 1 John 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 13:1—most opponents claimed they weren’t condemning Christianity but Chow’s purported misuse of Scripture against the LGBT community.
UC Berkeley birthed the Free Speech Movement in 1964, but this incident is just the latest crisis threatening the school’s historic image as a bastion for free speech and inclusivity. One student at the meeting said there was no space for conservatism that was “hateful,” adding that for such ideas, freedom of speech should be revoked. Another called Chow’s speech “corny as hell” and said remarks can kill people.
The onslaught of harsh, sometimes vulgar comments dragged on for three hours. Three students stepped up to publicly support Chow. When one mentioned that he voted for Chow because she was pro-life, the audience erupted into mocking laughter. Meanwhile, Chow sat through the entire ceremony with a grim expression, provoking one student to exclaim, “Senator Chow, are you even listening to us? Do you even care?”
None of them knew that Chow was internally fighting the urge to burst into tears. Her parents, also present at the meeting, struggled to watch their daughter being publicly attacked. Chow didn’t want her parents to see her distress, so she waited until they left before sitting with a friend to cry. “If I didn’t have the encouragement and prayers of the community, leading up to the vote and the week after and even now, I would have buckled in on Day 1,” she told me.
But the hardest part of that meeting, Chow said, was witnessing “the wounded hearts and broken narratives that are behind all the anger and the hate.” Some students cried as they shared personal stories of their LGBT identity. Chow saw that “each one of these people who are so angry has been hurt, and oftentimes been hurt by the church.” It made her realize how much they all, including her, needed Jesus for healing and grace.
Meanwhile, good things are happening because of the incident, Chow said. Campus ministries that barely connect are gathering to pray and talk about how to move on, how to reach out to the LGBT community with love and truth. Fellow Christians on campus are opening up about their own same-sex struggles and how they wrestle with God through it. They’re re-watching the video from the Nov. 7 senate meeting to better understand painful LGBT experiences.
Still, Chow is human. At times, she has wanted to wallow in self-pity and ask, “God, why me? Why put me in this position?” That’s when she asks people to pray for her and declares her thanksgiving to God: “God, I trust that You’re good, that You’re still sovereign in this.”
That prayer helps her stand her ground despite the constant demands for her resignation from the UC Berkeley student senate.
“If no one represents the truth, then who will?” she said. “If I was elected to be a voice for such a time as this, the light doesn’t stop shining when the darkness gets darker, the voice doesn’t stop speaking when it’s being shut down. This is not a time to back down. It’s a time to continue shining the light of Christ in all love, all grace, all humility.”