Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Affirming the Gays at Christian Colleges

On Monday, the New York Times published an article on the rising presence of pro-LGBT or queer-affirming groups on Christian college campuses. The article recalls the efforts of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a grassroots campaign that brings young adults to Christian colleges and universities across the country to engage in open and honest conversations about faith and sexuality, and how the presence of the Riders has really stirred up student involvement in talking about homosexuality on their campuses. However, as expected, these groups of students are met with resistance at their colleges.

As a past Equality Rider (2007) and a former student at an Evangelical university—that came out as openly gay while I was still a student—I find this conversation in the NY Times to be long overdue, yet still very relevant today. Through my own experiences as an out gay student at Christian college and an activist that has engaged in hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations with Christian college students about this very subject, I offer my thoughts and reflections on the subject presented in the article.

It is absolutely imperative that students at these colleges are talking about their sexuality in a sex-positive atmosphere. It opens a space for LGBTQ students to at least hear that they are not alone in the conversations they are having with themselves about their sexuality. Through reflecting on this subject in a welcoming, or at least less-condemning environment, queer students are less likely to take drastic measures of trying to 'cure' their homosexuality through ex-gay therapies—they are given the opportunity to consider the fact that they are not sinful and inherently disordered.

I remember that feeling of loneliness I had when I began to recognize my own same-sex attractions, while I was still a student at Azusa Pacific University, one of the largest Evangelical universities in the country. My options for talking about it on campus seemed very limited. I could go to the campus pastors office and perhaps hear that I'm a sinner in need of spiritual repair. I could go to the counseling center and perhaps hear that I'm disordered and in need of psychological repair. But neither one really seemed like a viable option, since the university had a policy that clearly stated that "homosexual acts or behaviors" were prohibited—so I feared being kicked out by disclosing to any university office that I was a homosexual. I was overcome by a feeling that made me feel alone, isolated, and scared.

These groups needs to be more visual. While they will be met with resistance, it is still vital that LGBTQ students know there are safe spaces, and allies, that are willing to affirm them and to remind them that they are not alone. We can decrease the number of LGBTQ-related suicides if we remember to reach out to our brothers, sisters, and other kin that are hurting in the closet.

The article almost suggests about these groups like they are a new phenomenon, or that they are unique to these particular schools they discuss. I want to emphasize that they are not new. I guarantee that at almost every Christian college and university there is an underground group of students that are working to challenge the obsolete history, theologies, and practices of their institutions, in order to affirm LGBTQ individuals. While I was at APU, a group of students and myself formed and underground, secret gay-straight alliance. When I was on the Equality Ride, I constantly met students that were doing or had done the same thing. I want to empower students to keep this up!

The church is changing. Younger voices are rising up in the church and it is these younger voices that will carry us into the future. I want to believe that as young people we are not part of an ignorant generation. That we will not repeat the mistakes of church fathers. Stop sending young people to the grave because they think they are not loved just as they are! I hope this NY Times article serves as an encouragement resource. We are not alone. And nobody in the closet should feel like they are too.

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