By Savanna Graves
On October 31, 2018, a UC Berkeley student senator abstained from voting on a proposed bill. This specific bill was drafted as a symbolic opposition to Trump’s proposed changes to Title IX--specifically a clause that defined a person’s gender as a person’s biological sex. Instead of voting against the bill, Isabella Chow simply abstained from voting on the basis of her faith.
“Where it crossed the line for me was, as a Christian, I cannot promote certain identities and lifestyles,” Chow said, “specifically the LGBTQ identity and lifestyle because they conflict with my religious morals.”
When Chow informed her political party, Student Action, about her decision, their proclamation of tolerance and understanding went out the door.
“It got to the point that you either fully support this bill or you’re out.” Chow explains. However, the young senator stood her ground, unwilling to compromise her faith and betray the people that trusted her to vote for them.
So Isabella Chow made the decision to abstain from voting. In her mind, this would be a quiet stance that would protect her from the backlash that was sure to come. However, as soon as she abstained, Student Action had a press release ready to put out cutting all ties with Chow. In the press release, Student Action falsely accused Chow of not wanting to protect the LGBTQ community or victims of sexual assault. In response, Chow attempted to put out her own editorial in her student newspaper-they refused to publish the editorial. Since her decision Chow has been continuously slandered and verbally berated by her opposers. She has been the focal point of cruel memes going through the UC Berkeley campus and constant online harassment. With a campus like Berkeley, Chow is the minority in her faith and beliefs and has taken precautions to not walk around campus alone from fear of the online attackers turning physical.
“The closest I’ve gotten to being physically threatened was when I was filming on campus one day for an interview. Someone walked by and yelled ‘Queerphobic senators need to resign’.” Chow cites.
When asked about how her campus and our nation need to learn to better respect each other, Chow insists that those that disagree need to begin to actually have dialogue:
“At the end of the day, it’s not just a conservative vs. liberal free speech issue. At the end of the day this is a people issue.” She explains, “I’ve been telling my Christian community here that we need to dialogue together about the intersection of faith and the LGBTQ community. You don’t need to and shouldn’t have to agree theologically and practically one hundred percent, but we do need to talk to each other, especially when we disagree.”
Chow also sees how the LGBTQ community has been wrongly treated by the church. She continues to urge her church and those in the Christian community to reach out to those that have been ignored and mistreated by the church.
“At the end of the day, though, as a Christian, we are called to love, and unconditional love means that, no matter how we are treated we extend the love of Jesus,” Chow insists.
The young senator has taken heat from voting on the basis of faith, but this wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. She says that her policy decisions always stem from her faith and the responsibility she has to the Christian community that voted her in.
“I do think that any person’s belief system affects their vote, and that’s how it was for me.” Chow says.
After Chow’s decision, a petition started going around with signatures hoping to remove Chow from her position. Along with this petition, an argument is also going around that a section of the student government’s constitution justifies Chow’s removal.
“I’m not planning on resigning. If there was a recall election brought up, I would obviously deal with that one step at a time.” Chow insists.
When I asked her what her future looked like from here, she was tired, yet hopeful.
“I think if anything, I feel like, personally, I’ve weathered a big storm. I think that what I did set the precedence for the representation of a silent minority on campus that is often not heard and often disrespected,” Chow explains. “I hope that, not just my term, but in future terms, a Christian senator will be able to represent the views of the Christian community here. I hope that this will pave the way to greater understanding and dialogue. But again, that can only happen if the other side is willing to have a respectful and gracious conservation.”
While many would falter under the pressure and backlash Chow has suffered, she has prevailed and come out on the other side stronger and determined to continue her judiciary duties.
Chow asks that we continue to pray for the church in Berkeley and Christians who continue to wrestle with sexuality. She also insists we pray for the LGBT community and that the church can reach out with love while still upholding their beliefs.
“As a Christian, we are called to love, and unconditional love means that, no matter how we are treated we extend the love of Jesus,” Chow says. “During the protest, yes people were angry, yes people were hurt, but behind the hurt were wounded hearts and broken narratives that no human being should ever go through. Many of these narratives came from misunderstandings and mistreatment by the church. We have to walk that fine line between loving people unconditionally and also speaking the truth unashamedly.”