Today brings us two interesting stories on the LGBT students at Christian colleges front.
The first is the news that women’s basketball standout Brittney Griner devotes time in her new memoir to discussing her to her experiences as a gay student at Baptist-affiliated Baylor University. This quote from Griner expresses feelings that those of us who went to Christian colleges know all too well.
“I would love to be an ambassador for Baylor, to show my school pride, but it’s hard to do that. I’ve spent too much of my life being made to feel like there’s something wrong with me. And no matter how much support I felt as a basketball player at Baylor, it still doesn’t erase all the pain I felt there.”
Brittney Griner was one of the best women’s college basketball players of all time, led Baylor to an undefeated season and a national championship while dominating her opponents, and yet being the most famous Baylor student wasn’t enough to protect her from an unwelcoming campus climate.
The other story worth noting is today’s op-ed in The Advocate by a gay student at the Churches of Christ school, Harding University. Harding, which is best known as the alma mater of several of the Duck Dynasty progeny, states in its student handbook that sexual immorality (defined as anything other than one man and one woman in marriage) of any form is grounds for suspension.
Again, not the most welcoming environment for a gay student, especially given that the conservative Christian world is incapable of separating orientation from actions in their minds. That makes Shaun Melady’s op-ed about his experiences at Harding an incredibly courageous piece to write. And, like Griner, Melady’s words are all too familiar for Christian college students.
“If this were a normal occurrence, I would prelude this with, “I’m sorry, but… ”
But not anymore. I need to get this out of my system. I need to finally get rid of this. I am a 22-year-old gay guy at a Christian college and I am tired of hiding.
I am fed up with the worry, angst, and fear about what other “Christians” are going to think. I am sick of the judgmental glares that come my way when I walk through the halls. I am tired of thinking in a worrisome manner about what the next words should be that come out of my mouth because I don’t want the “people of God” to think that I am some kind of grotesque being.”
Let that sink in for a minute.
“I don’t want the “people of God” to think that I am some kind of grotesque being.”
Nobody should have to go through their four years in college feeling that way. And yet, in big ways and small, that’s the message that Christian colleges across the country send to their gay students every day.
Going to a Christian college is like living in a bubble for four years. And for a gay kid at a Christian college, it’s a bubble that keeps them isolated from support while telling them that they’re broken. As Melady puts it,
“I don’t think they get it, and I don’t think my friends understand either. I am lonely. I am hurting. I am being mistreated indirectly. Yes, I am at a Christian university, and I know the college holds onto certain beliefs and traditions, but aren’t there supposed to be Christians here? Didn’t Christ say to love … unconditionally? Why do I have to be left outside when everyone else is being brought in? Why do I have to hide who I am when everyone else is able to stand out?
I’m not sorry anymore. I’m not sorry for having these feelings. The emotions are real. It makes me wonder whether I am alone here.”
Shaun, if you happen to read this, know that you’re not alone and there are thousands of us who read your words and know what you’re experiencing because we lived it too. It’s okay if you feel conflicted about your college experience, the positives and the negatives can coexist and if you can’t reconcile everything, that’s fine. And hey, if you hate everything about your four years in college, that’s fine too. Nobody else can define that for you.
To my other readers, if you’re an alumnus of a Christian college, I ask you to speak out. Make your voices heard by the administration.
Speak out so that students don’t feel like they’re alone.
Speak out so that the Brittney Griners and Shaun Meladys, and all of the nameless, faceless kids who don’t feel safe identifying themselves don’t have to experience four years of painful memories.
Especially if you’re a straight alumnus, speak out. Colleges need to know that it’s not just a few LGBT alumni who are urging change–they can write us off, or try and censor us, but when they start hearing from alumni who don’t have a stake in the game, it’s harder to ignore.
Write letters to the administration. Tell them that the way they’re treating their LGBT students is harmful. Tell them it needs to change.
Together we can make our alma maters safe for every student.
Note: If you’re a Covenant alumnus reading this, drop me a note if you want to help organize an alumni effort. I’ve spoken out in the past, but I think it’s time that we work together to help current students.