Isabella Chow, a student senator at Berkeley, responded after facing intense backlash over her decision to abstain from voting on a resolution condemning the Trump administration’s biologically-based definition of gender.
After stating her Christian belief in two genders, Chow faced public protests, calls for her resignation, and a scathing op-ed in one of the student newspapers. While that newspaper denied her the chance to respond, she was able to sit down for an interview with IJR on Saturday.
During the interview, Chow reiterated her commitment to loving everyone regardless of the way they identified. She said that while she supported elements of the bill — specifically freedom from discrimination and harassment — she couldn’t endorse a provision that supported groups with views contrary to her own.
“Where that bill crossed the line for me was at the very end […] the bill essentially promoted organizations on campus like the Queer Alliance Resource Center, whose primary purpose is to promote the LGBTQ identity and lifestyle,” she said.
“As a Christian, I’m walking this fine line between protecting and loving all individuals while not necessarily being able to condone certain identities and lifestyles that conflict with my religious beliefs,” she added.
Her own student government party ousted her over the decision and planned to release a statement allegedly accusing her of opposing protections for sexual assault survivors — something she denied ever doing.
That’s likely because Chow’s vote pertained to Title IX, a statute which addresses both sex discrimination and assault. She abstained, however, over the administration’s gender definition, not some of its more controversial provisions surrounding protections for sexual assault survivors on U.S. campuses.
The resolution criticized the administration’s reasoning and argued the decision would hurt legal protections for people who identified as transgender.
“The Associated Students of the University of California stands in firm opposition to the Trump administration’s proposed definition of sex under Title IX,” one of the provisions read. Another urged Berkeley’s administration to “publicly reinforce their support of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming students.”
Chow said her decision prompted social media backlash and a petition demanding her resignation. The Daily Californian, the aforementioned student-run newspaper, also rejected her request to respond to its editorial denouncing her speech before the Senate vote on Oct. 31.
According to Chow, the paper told her that because her response referenced her speech and defended a biblical view of gender and sexuality, it was “homophobic.”
“It was just disappointing because on a campus where free speech is supposed to be valued, not only am I not given an opportunity to explain my position, but also I’m getting media requests from the Daily Cal — but everything that I say to a journalist can be skewed however they want,” she said.
She claimed that The Daily Californian reached out for comment an hour before they published the story and as she was “rushing to class.”
Berkeley’s chancellor, Chow said, hadn’t said anything about the incident, although a student support center did reach out to her.
When IJR reached out to Berkely for comment, the school distanced itself from the episode without endorsing any particular side. Dan Mogulof, Assistant Vice Chancellor, said via email:
“Our student government, the Associated Students of the University California (ASUC), is legally autonomous and independent from the university. As a result, the student government and its members speak only for themselves and do not represent the views of the campus administration one way or the other. This University will maintain its unwavering commitment to Free Speech, and its support for our Principles of Community, which apply to all of Berkeley’s students, staff, and faculty. While the campus administration doesn’t interfere with the internal governance of the student government or registered student organizations, we have a Student Conduct Process that provides for disciplinary action to be taken in response to a student complaint that a student organization has violated campus nondiscrimination policies.”
Chow emphasized, however, that regardless of how others treated her, she felt an obligation to love them.
“Love is unconditional and so no matter how I’m treated, no matter how my Christian community is treated,” she said, “I still have an obligation as a Christian to love you even if that’s not reciprocated.”
“I tell the Christian community here that we have to acknowledge that the Church has hurt the LGBTQ community and that if anything, at the very least, we’ve ignored this community for too long and it’s time to change that,” she added.
She went on to say that love didn’t include silently concurring with someone’s actions or lifestyle if she thought they were wrong. “I cannot stand by when I believe sincerely that your actions and your lifestyles have consequences for you,” she said.
“To love means to speak the truth when I’m asked about the truth,” Chow added. “I’m not going to go around and judge you […] but on the Senate floor I was faced with what I considered to be a moral decision and a value judgment.”
“And in that, I had to make a decision and I had to make a statement about what I believed to be good, right, and true. Love doesn’t mean not speaking the truth. Love means speaking the truth with gentleness and grace.”
Chow also had a response for people who suggested she should separate her faith from her political decisions. “It doesn’t matter how I vote. Either way, I will be making a worldview decision and it’s fundamentally impossible to separate your worldview from your decisions in a context like this.”