Chef fights abuse at Azusa Pacific

From the January-February 2018 issue of News & Letters

Los Angeles—An immigrant former staff member of Azusa Pacific University (APU), a Christian college in California, has come forward to expose sexual assault in the workplace and its subsequent cover-up. Mahesh Pradhan was working as a chef and supervisor at APU when other supervisors and employees who perceived him as Gay subjected him to chronic abuse. On multiple occasions he was pushed against the wall and groped, while the assailants taunted him, telling him he liked it. They would repeatedly prod him with utensils or lock him in the kitchen’s walk-in freezer for their amusement.

Demonstration in support of Mahesh Pradhan. Photo by Leo Jarzomb, San Gabriel Valley Tribune/ SCNG http://www.sgvtribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/ 11/sgt-l-apu-rally-1107-03.jpg?w=620

Pradhan reported the abuse to higher-ups, but nothing was done. Instead, while the abuse continued, he was demoted. He was even required to pray with co-workers, including his assailants, until he was granted medical leave in 2015.

Pradhan never resorted to denigrating Queer people, but understood the importance of making common cause. He spoke to a rally of about 50 supporters gathered in front of the APU campus on Nov. 6: “I told them that I am not gay, but what’s wrong with being gay or being straight?”

A prominent speaker at the rally was Erin Green, an APU student who is part of the underground Queer student club HAVEN. This group meets off campus because the college refuses to recognize it as an official club. “I am asked oftentimes by Christian universities to be patient while the universities are trying to make progress in this area,” Green said, before quoting Martin Luther King Jr.’s adage that “justice delayed is justice denied.”

APU’s student manual prohibits the formation of any “romanticized same-sex relationship.” In 2013, the college took advantage of a religious exemption in California’s non-discrimination statutes to terminate the contract of a professor who came out as Transgender. When his courses were reassigned mid-semester, students angrily protested their professor’s removal. Students now demand recognition of HAVEN and revision of the student code.

Inherent in the rally to support Mr. Pradhan was bringing together many voices. Theirs was a gathering in favor of true sanctity and integrity of bodies, in favor of respect and self-determination of immigrants, and for Queer people’s recognition and validity. It is a glimmer of what must happen if human beings are to arrive at an authentically new way of structuring relationships in society.

—Buddy Bell

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