NIU staff member honored for promoting LGBTQ acceptance

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DeKALB – One of the things Christian Lash enjoys most about working with Transitions, a social group for transgender, gender-nonconforming and gender-questioning students at Northern Illinois University, is that they "get to see people as they are."

“There are some people in that group who, for various reasons, are not out in their daily lives,” Lash said. “This group gives them a chance to have a space where they can be themselves, and that’s really cool to see.”

Lash, a library specialist at NIU’s Founders Memorial Library, has been a co-coordinator of Transitions for three semesters. Lash said members of the group are able to hang out, play games and have fun in a welcoming environment.

Lash’s leadership in Transitions was only one of the reasons they were chosen to receive the Eychaner Award during the 23rd annual Pride Awards dinner Friday. Each year, the ceremony honors students, faculty, staff and partners who have contributed to an atmosphere of inclusiveness for the LGBTQ community at NIU.

Originally from Jacksonville, Lash moved to DeKalb in 2004 to earn an undergraduate degree in childhood development from NIU. Lash began working at the library in 2012 and is completing an online program through the University of Illinois to attain a master’s degree in library and information science.

Lash also represented the 3rd Ward on the DeKalb City Council from 2011 to 2015.

The namesakes for the Eychaner Award are Howard and Milly Eychaner, who founded the DeKalb chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and were known to hand out business cards that read, “Howard and Millie Eychaner: Proud of our gay and non-gay children.”

Since the inaugural award in 1995, the Eychaner Award has been given in two categories each year, with one going to a student and the other going to a faculty or staff member or alumni.

Molly Holmes, director of NIU's Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, said Lash was nominated for the award because of their various commitment to educating people about and advocating for the LGBTQ community.

“Their service both to the community and campus has been outstanding in really making that 360-degree connection,” Holmes said.

This includes developing a class called “Just as I am: the Church and LGBTQ+ Integration” with Westminster Presbyterian Church in DeKalb as part of an internship for the LGBT studies certificate program at NIU.

Lash also recently spoke at a panel about faith and LGBTQ identities, presented research to undergraduate students about biblical interpretations of homosexuality and is the secretary for NIU’s presidential commission for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lash’s goals are to raise awareness that LGBTQ identities are not at odds with Christianity and to give churches leaders who want to be affirming, inclusive and accepting the tools to do so.

“There’s a sense from a lot of people that those two communities don’t mix, and that sense is absolutely not true,” Lash said. “There is a plethora of affirming churches out there; it’s just that the Westboro Baptist types are louder.”

The class is a five-week Sunday school program for adults that explores scriptures commonly referenced against homosexuality and tries to put them into historic and linguistic context, Lash said.

Lash said they also put across the message that those who disagree can maintain their beliefs without being hateful or excluding others.

“I will end it by saying, ‘If this doesn’t convince you, that’s OK,’ and then we talk about the absolute radical love and inclusion Jesus showed to people who were on the margins,” Lash said. “Whether he agreed with what they were doing or not, he showed them absolutely nothing but love.”