Lauren Hoekstra at Dordt

Lauren Hoekstra, a junior at Dordt University in Sioux Center, is one of 33 plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Education which seeks equal protection for LGBTQ students at religious colleges and universities. Avery Bonestroo, another Dordt student, also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

SIOUX CENTER—The U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday, June 8, it can “vigorously” defend existing civil rights exemptions for private schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students as part of a lawsuit that includes two Dordt University students.

It is generally the practice of the DOJ to defend the law as-is, which currently allows for religion-based anti-LGBTQ rules at nonpublic schools — even those that receive federal funding.

However, the tone of Wednesday’s announcement surprised and dismayed Lauren Hoekstra, a queer woman and one of the students at the Sioux Center university who is included in the lawsuit.

She remembers being on a Tuesday video call with her fellow plaintiffs when she heard the news.

“You could see on everybody’s faces the disappointment, the sadness, and just overall, the shock at being let down by an administration that we thought had our back,” Hoekstra said. “It is especially more hurtful because President Biden and Vice President Harris have been tweeting about ‘Oh, happy Pride Month, blah blah blah’ and then that statement comes out.”

Like many public figures, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have spoken positively of Pride Month, which covers all of June. The month was originally made to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots that are generally considered the start of the modern gay rights movement.

When the two Democrats ran for the spot in the White House, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had vocalized pro-LGBTQ stances.

“It’s like, well, your words aren’t really lining up with your actions,” Hoekstra said.

Hoekstra along with dozens of other former and current students at 25 U.S. Christian college and universities allege unlawful discrimination at their private colleges across the country as people with minority gender identities and sexual orientations. Dordt is not part of the lawsuit; the U.S. Department of Education is the defendant — which makes the DOJ responsible for the case.

The story received traction on social media in the hours after the government’s announcement, with many observers taking issue with the word “vigorously.”

Hoekstra said that she’s happy that such wide attention is being given to the issue that she said is larger than just one lawsuit.

“It was really cool to see the case trending on Twitter and lots of people talking about it,” she said.

The DOJ updated their filing on Wednesday to add that the DOE is reviewing its discrimination policy.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the way these people have been treated,” Hoekstra said of the other plaintiffs. “So, it just means that we have to do better.”