FAILING GRADE

Bullying Doesn’t End In High School For Gay Students Who Attend Christian Colleges

This week, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) held its annual cabal in Washington, DC. And though we’re sure much of it covered boring academic and administrative minutiae, Inside Higher Ed reports that speakers at one panel made it clear that these schools’ views on homosexuality wouldn’t be leaving the 19th century any time soon.

The media wasn’t allowed to cover the panel, but attendees claim the conversation “dealt not with whether colleges should change their attitudes toward gay students, but how to deal with the controversy that breaks out when students or alumni pressure a college to change,” writes reporter Libby Nelson.

College is where most of us first experienced the sense of liberation that comes with making your own choices and determining your own identity. We can’t imagine any LGBT person choosing to go to an evangelical Christian school, most of which require students and faculty to sign pledges that they pretty much won’t piss on a gay person if he was on fire.

But not everyone gets to go to school where they want—economic realities, family pressures and other factors may make attending a CCCU school a necessity. But more and more gay students at these institutions are refusing to stay silent.

As Nelson points out:

Last year, a group of 31 gay and lesbian Westmont alumni wrote a letter to the college, saying they had lived in an environment of “doubt, loneliness and fear” while enrolled there. More than 100 additional alumni signed on in support, and more than 50 faculty members signed a letter in response, asking forgiveness for causing the students pain.

A few months later, an openly gay student at Messiah College, in Pennsylvania, told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that he planned to transfer after two semesters of bullying. Students had excluded him, he said, a professor had called him an “abomination,” he received death threats on Facebook, and his wallet, keys and student ID were stolen, among other incidents, he said.

While administrators insist they don’t brook outright discrimination and tell their students to respect the dignity of all people, college kids—like small children—practice what they see, not what they’re told.

“It’s important to us as leaders of Christian colleges and universities to promote sexual purity, to exercise good pastoral care and to articulate Biblical convictions,” says Philip Ryken, a panel moderator and president of Illinois’ Wheaton College.

Okay then, Mr. Ryken, which Biblical conviction helps a freshman sleep at night when he’s worried someone might try to kill him for being gay?

Photos: Joseph Kranak, Johns Hopkins University

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51 Comments

  • Drew

    Why would someone that’s GLBT even want to attend a Fundamentalist Christian college or university?

  • Riker

    @Drew: Maybe its the only school their parents will pay for, and they don’t have the resources to pay their own way? Plenty of reasons a GLB/T student might attend them.

  • hunnylvr

    “Christian” colleges are some of the scariest places on the planet. Why anyone would choose to go there is beyond my comprehension. I would rack up student debt to keep me paying until I was 80 yrs old before I’d ever consider a school like that. Those people are truly insane.

  • Riker

    @hunnylvr: It isn’t quite that easy to avoid. When I went to college, I couldn’t get a loan by myself. My parents had to cosign the loan forms, which opens the door to them refusing to allow their children to attend a secular college. Its either that, or flip burgers until you’re 30.

  • no sense

    WHY WOULD AN OPENLY GAY/LESBIAN STUDENT ATTEND A CHRISTIAN COLLEGE???!!!!??!!!

    Thats like a Jew attending Hitler High

  • Paul Cook-Giles

    Some people –like me– aren’t out when they’re ready for college. Some people –like me– who are raised in conservative Christian homes and have planned all their lives to go to a Christian college. There are lots of reasons a GLBT person might be enrolled in a conservative Christian school… don’t make the mistake of believing that every GLBT person follows the same life-path that you have.

    PCG
    Lubbock Christian, ’84

  • xamthor

    It’s easy to say not to go to such a school, but that does not get the school off the hook.
    We wouldn’t let Xtian schools burn witches or stone adulters just because it’s part of their beliefs.

  • revdarren

    As Riker and Paul Cook-Giles mentioned, there are a number of reasons why LGBT kids end up at Christian colleges. I, for one, had not come out to myself by the time I started at Westmont (often kids raised in fundamentalist/evangelical culture are also raised in denial). Sometimes kids are still under age when they start college and don’t have the legal means to take out a loan without parental support. Sometimes kids are under immense family and community pressure (choosing to have your entire family and hometown reject you is not easy). Sometimes kids are under the delusional insanity of the “ex-gay” self-hatred movement and have yet to realize the futility of fighting against their hearts and bodies. Why is it so hard for people to offer compassion for kids whose toxic upbringing is killing them?

    If the CCCU were realists they would acknowledge that some of their students are likely going to be sexual minorities. If they had ethics they would acknowledge that their schools are not safe places for LGBT students to develop (rather than hoping that ex-gay counseling and a tolerated [if not implicitly supported] culture of hazing and bullying sexual and gender minority students might somehow “heal” them) and do everything in their power to help those students secure an education from a culturally competent school. If they had academic integrity and rigor, they would acknowledge that other biblical scholars and scientists strongly disagree with their interpretation of non-heteronormative sexuality and help their students understand all sides of the academic debate. Alas, reality, academic integrity, and ethics are not high on the CCCU’s colonial agenda.

    Darren McDonald
    Westmont College, 2002

  • Shannon1981

    We really need to get the word out to LGBT youth that there are ways to finance an education besides on their parents’ dime. 99% of the time they feel like they have no choice, when they really do.

  • Shannon1981

    Ok, here ya go, folks. I just graduated college. While yes, you DO normally have to put your parents’ income on the FAFSA when you apply if you are under a certain age, there are ways to not do that. Call a financial aid counselor at the school of your choice, they should be able to help you get a pardon if you explain the situation. Go to fafsa.gov, all the school ID codes are there.

    Secondly, most college websites have pages that advertise and highlight what they offer, what makes them appealing. Look for LGBT centric ads. Call first, check these departments. Find out what a place is like. Talk to bunches of people, ask bunches of questions. Be blunt. Do NOT BE AFRAID TO TELL THEM YOU ARE LGBT. The convo that follows..will tell you all you need to know.

  • JayKay

    Look at all the tolerance and acceptance on display here.

  • revdarren

    I agree, Shannon. We also need to equip LGBT students who have found themselves in toxic environments so that they can get OUT of those environments in a healthy manner that is not financially crippling. We also need to work on creating scholarships for students who find themselves in persecuting anti-LGBT environments (something akin to the Point scholarship but based on sexual/gender persecution).

  • CJ

    Many LGBT youth go to religious colleges because they are not out even to themselves. When you live in a conservative home and are surrounded with conservative friends (school, church, etc)… you don’t really get exposed to much. You sort of follow the direction the water is flowing. Sometimes that direction is heavily determined by your parents if they’re paying for all of your schooling AND if your school options are heavily influenced by your conservative upbringing. Keep in mind, not every LGBT youth grows up in an accepting environment and is “strong willed” enough to come out to their parents and friends as a youth or even college-aged adult. If you’re surrounded by conservatives 24/7 you feel very isolated.

  • GaryBob

    I think it’s also important to note that there are shades of gray between ultra liberal secular university and hyper conservative religious university. I went to a Jesuit school and had the best four years of my life. I found the faculty, staff, students, and even the priests/nuns to be very supportive of the LGBT community. There was a host of resources which empowered me to eventually come out to my parents and live openly on campus. Many universities were founded on religious convictions, yet have grown and matured with the rest of society. Keep in mind that not all Christians are rabid evangelicals and not all Christian universities are intolerant places.

    GB
    Loyola Marymount ’10

  • Shannon1981

    @revdarren: Actually, I’ve been actively contacting non- profits with the idea of starting one aimed JUST at LGBT youth. Everything from getting them out of toxic home environments to college decisions. As someone who recently came out of the college system, I am well aware of ways to get help.

    IF you are interested in getting on board- facebook.com/shannonforequality

  • Shannon1981

    @JayKay: You’d rather an LGBT kid wind up at one of these schools and be harassed and condemned for four years than get the truth out about there being options, about there being ways to thrive in college rather than suffer?

  • JayKay

    @Shannon1981:

    You’re assuming they’re going to these schools because they think they have no other options.

    Maybe they want to attend because they’re, shocking and appalling I’m sure, Christian.

    Or maybe they’re hoping to get an education rather than an anti-white, anti-male, anti-capitalism, anti-American brainwashing that you get at most universities.

  • iDavid

    @Shannon1981

    Awesome. Just awesome. Anything that gets kids past or out of sexual abusive situations is I believe, a most incredible goal.

  • Shannon1981

    @JayKay: I am not assuming anything. In the context of the article, it is important for them to realize they aren’t doomed to attend universities that call what they are a sin and an abomination and be harassed and bullied for four years. If they are choosing to go, great. Whatever happens, that is in their own hands.But some aren’t. Some are forced. And for those who are being forced, they need to know that they are not alone.

    At any rate, it is beyond me how you could think an evangelical college is good for anyone LGBT.

  • iDavid

    @CM

    I sooo hear ya man. Tho sexuality was not an issues for me with respect to going to college, it still didn’t mean I wasn’t a total jelly head in alot of areas of my life. I think we all pick our bs to experience.

  • iDavid

    @CJ. That comment was for you, CM is driod talking out its ass. ; )

  • Shannon1981

    @iDavid: Hey, I am a broke college graduate, I can’t do it on my own, if you or your friends or anyone want to get on board, inbox me on FB

    facebook.com/shannonforequality

    Feel free to look me up on Google+ too for pro equality resources

    Shannon Equality Barber

    I don’t, contrary to popular belief, wish to deny kids a religious education if that is what they want. I simply want kids out of abusive situations at home, school, and, yes, give them options once they hit college age to not go to these oppressive places that preach against gay people. I come from a background of deep religion. I know what it’s like. My goal in life is to stop the damage that was done to me and so many like me.

  • jj

    Yeah my college experience wasnt great. Unfortunately i applied somewhat late and could only get a double room in residence and ended getting put in a room with a straight jock(not as fun as it sounds). I pretty much just crawled back in the closet because nobody knew me there, and it would have been awkward if i didnt. He wasnt homophobic but if he knew i was gay it definitely would have made things difficult. Needless to say i transferred to another school the next year and life is just so much better being out.

  • Patsy Stoned

    Shannonn1981, you rock! Good for you for identifying a need and doing something proactive about it.

  • Shannon1981

    @Patsy Stoned: Thanks. Its still in the beginning stages now, getting people on board, getting grants and whatnot, getting folks who are at the top of already recognized non profits to point me where I need to go. Once again, anyone interested, we need all the people we can get.

    This has long been an annoyance of mine re:kids stuck under the thumbs of religious bigots and unable to help themselves. I truly believe in the sentiment of community here, because at this point, the only people we have are ourselves and each other.

  • Nick

    I am a senior at Messiah College here in Pennsylvania. I am a gay student and while I am not out of the closet, I would say that is because that is a step in my life that I’m just not ready to make yet, NOT because of the environment here. I have many friends who are completely out and doing just fine. I can personally attest to the fact that the student who wrote the article was not disliked because he was gay…he was disliked because he was a dick to pretty much everyone around him. I give no credibility to his claims of death threats or “stolen” ID cards/wallet/keys. It’s simply not verifiable. While I don’t completely agree with the views of Messiah College (I was a Christian when I came here as a freshman but I would not consider myself one anymore), I would say the student body as a whole creates a very loving community here.

  • Daez

    @Nick: I would like to offer the first lesson to you about being gay. Its a simple one that you must not have grasped because you are rather new to the experience. Ignore the bitter, old closet trolls that think their way of life is the only way of life and expect everyone else to follow it.

    Do what makes you happy. If you don’t want to be out, don’t be. You aren’t missing all that much. If you don’t feel the need to tell your parents then don’t. It is a personal decision. It is not a requirement that all gays come out of the closet.

  • the other Greg

    @Daez: I think Nick is a few steps ahead of you, since he’s already expressed a desire to come out to his parents after he’s no longer financially dependent on them. That seems to be the key point with him.

    So he probably won’t stay closeted all through his 20s and 30s, and then when he’s around 40 his parents FIGURE IT OUT – oh, I dunno, maybe because he’s never dated a female, or something like that – and then they REJECT him anyway, as seems to have happened to several people on this site!

    Fortunately, Nick seems to be more level-headed than that.

  • the other Greg

    @Daez: Also, I’m troubled by your statement: “If you don’t want to be out, don’t be. You aren’t missing all that much.” I think you miss the point not only of what coming out is supposed to accomplish, but the many problems it prevents.

  • iDavid

    @Nick

    Hey man, you are so right on. You are doing what you think is right for you and that deserves major kudos. You have thought it through and come to valid decision and have a plan.
    Isaac C has a reputation here for being a complete imbecile in lock up w straight jacket, so don’t let the freak get you down. God only knows how he got access to a computer typing with toes. You do your life as planned and let the freaks do theirs. Though you may not be the happiest just yet, it’s your survival choices that make you stable.
    I know kids who if they told their parents they were gay, they would be living in cardboard boxes under bridges. Do whatever you need to do man, I totally support you all the way.

  • Shannon1981

    @Nick: We all do what is best for us, kudos to you for that.

    However, with all due respect, with you being in the closet, you don’t get the full effect of what its like to be gay at that college or anywhere, because, to others, you aren’t. Your out buddies might not be telling you of anti- gay harassment. Chances are they know you are gay and want you to come out, and don’t want to scare you further into your closet.

    I respect that you know the person referenced in the article, but he might have a reason for being a “complete dick” as you call him. Perhaps its this very bullying. Also, until I have a real reason to believe he has not suffered any harassment, I’ll believe his story.

    Yes, do what you need to do to stay safe and finish your education. All the best to you.

  • Jawsch

    One of my exs was kicked out of the University of the Cumberlands baptist college here in Kentucky years ago. He was on the Dean’s List and was given failing grades for the remainder of his semester. The issue was, they had (after his enrollment) changed their policy to not allow students who practice Homosexuality (or support it) to be enrolled.

    He sued, it was a huge ordeal and made national news. He sued only for his grades and not money (which sometimes I feel was a bad decision) and eventually we both took part in the SoulForce Equality Ride that made a stop at the UC.

    As “crazy” as it may seem to some people (those “some” people being myself) that a LGBT individual would want to attend a religious college, it does happen. I don’t see how it’s any different than someone who supported abortion attending the college. It’s simply “one” angle that you disagree with the church on. Hardly a reason to toss out your beliefs and attend a secular college. Jason’s ordeal eventually changed their policies and actually lead into an investigation of our first Republican governor in 32 years because he appropriated $11 million of tax payer money to the UC (private religious college) which violates our state constitution. :P

  • Shannon1981

    @Jawsch: Insane that this happened to your ex. Great outcome, though.

    However, that being said- there is a difference between a pro choicer going there and a gay person, IMHO. A pro choicer could easily keep that to him/herself. And the policy isn’t condemning the very core of what they are, either, unlike anti- gay policies.

    I am not saying don’t be a gay Christian. Personally, I find religion repugnant, but some people need it. So be it. But they need to realize that in going to religious institutions, their very being is condemned. How that could be considered to be a healthy decision is beyond me.

    I’ll chalk said decision up to be just another manifestation of the socially acceptable mental illness that is religious belief.

  • Danny

    Remember Christianity was created by racist, genocidal, polygamist, child-killing, slaveowners. So never expect Christian “morality” about sex or relationships to be anything other than completely hypocritical and absurd.

  • homer

    I remember Philip Ryken. I used to anchor him after he cleaned my kitchen.
    He loved to get tea-bagged in college too. Can’t understand why he would change
    his position.

  • iDavid

    @Homer

    Do you have any attraction to outing Philip Ryken? In this day and age of overt religious hypocrisy, it would seem “the right thing to do”. There are a lot of gay kids at Wheaton that could use your courage as a roll model.

    If he truly is gay or bi, it really needs some serious deliberation as to the help it could bring the entire gay movement by letting the truth be known. As they say, “The truth will set you free”.

    @Shannon1981

    I am right with you on this one. I am smack dab in the middle of a cross country move and will be more focused on humanitarian efforts as soon as I stabilize.

  • Shannon1981

    @iDavid: My gf and I are moving across the country shortly as well. Gotta get out of the Bible Belt- it’s driving me batty.

    Feel free to contact me on FB or G+- info in the comments up above. In the meantime, I am working on the groundwork- networking, contacting folks who already have their names out there,etc…

    It is very important to try to help as many kids as we can.

  • iDavid

    @Shannon1981

    Good luck w your move. It’s a bit of a bear here but exciting at the same time. More later!

  • Shannon1981

    @iDavid: Right back atcha. Hey, not doing it alone myself. I bet it is exciting. Be safe.

  • TASTEY GOODIES

    @Danny: Nicely put!!!!!

  • TASTEY GOODIES

    @Shannon1981: Wow, chiclet! You’ve been very productive and very inspiring. Thnx 4 your support for us rainbow peeps and so glad you are going 2 the gay ghetto in SF. So cool! I visited there in the early 90’s. So rad. I felt that is where I needed 2 b when I lived in Cali. It is called the castro district, right? To think you will be in the area of the Harvey Milk generation. I hope I got my facts right.

  • TASTEY GOODIES

    In 6th grade I went 2 a secular school and was bullied there so I transfered 2 an Assembly of God school k-12. I thought being there the bullying would end. NOT. They were just as cruel and cliqueish as any other public school. I felt so unwanted and unloved by so-called “followers of Christ”. Funny. I thought being a Christian meant showing unconditional love, compassion, and suspending judgement. I guess that is why I am NOT a Christian today. UUA ALL the way!!!

  • Shannon1981

    @TASTEY GOODIES: Yes, the Castro. But, while living in a gay ghetto might = peace to me and my partner, it simply = a way for me to be an activist without people harassing me for it and hindering my efforts. Contact information up above if you want, or know anyone who whats, to get involved. Of course, you can always email. Tomorrow is going to be spent writing grant proposals. Let us make this dream a reality!!

  • iDavid

    @Jawsch

    One “angle”of pure hate for your gay brother is enough, but I am curious have you ever researches Gnosticism? It is said Jesus studied it intently. Religion as we know it will be over soon. This is where it’s headed, the real message Jesus spoke instead of the mocked up trajectory we have all been accustomed to toxifying over.

    Congrats on you and you’d buddies victories.

    Wiki Gnostic Gospels, & Gnosticism

    A one-sentence description of Gnosticism: a religion that differentiates the evil god of this world (who is identified with the god of the Old Testament) from a higher more abstract God revealed by Jesus Christ,a religion that regards this world as the creation of a series of evil archons/powers who wish to keep the human soul trapped in an evil physical body,a religion that preaches a hidden wisdom or knowledge only to a select group as necessary for salvation or escape from this wor

  • iDavid

    PS and sisters! ; )

  • Doctah!

    I went to an Evangelical University in the midwest (Missouri) for my undergrad! My experience was that if you are open and proud, people will either hate you or become magnetically attracted to your ferocity… The key is remembering that if you are at an Evangelical school, some people are going to hate you. Once you recognize that and come to terms with it (with the understanding that no matter what others have to say about it, you are intrinsically valuable) life is good!

  • Shannon1981

    @Doctah!: A lot of these colleges are criminalizing homosexuality on their campuses, and the institutions themselves not just the other students, are perpetuating this bullshit.

    Glad it didn’t ruin you, but it could some.

  • iDavid

    @Shannon1981

    Do you consider this all a form of non-physical sexual abuse?

  • Shannon1981

    @iDavid: I consider it psychologically toxic abuse based on an innate characteristic.

    I wouldn’t call it sexual abuse until they are forced to date/marry/have sex with someone of the opposite sex, simply because it is the right thing to do.

    It’s more this for me: when I had (and still have) my own family condemning the very core of what I am, and doing things like sending me to conversion camps and talking about pits of fire and trying to scare me as a kid..its like lifelong psychological damage.

    For the record, lots of it does turn physical. The trick with what I am trying to do will be to work with social services and all of that to be able to see when the line from simple disagreement to abuse is crossed. There are all kinds of abuse, and often the worst kinds bear the scars we cannot see.

  • HT

    I went to a Christian University for college. I wasn’t out yet. I was in denial and probably thought that I could suppress my feelings by being in a religious environment. It didn’t work. I didn’t come out until after I graduated. No one was out there although there were a lot of people that everyone gossiped about (and as mean as that was, it was all true). Anyway, that’s why young gay people, and lots of them from my experience, attend these schools. If you spent even one day on any of these campuses you’d be stunned at how many obvious gay men there are at these schools. Christians schools are full of people who think they can avoid dealing with their sexuality or other issues. The good news is that you can transfer at any time. Others have given advice about financial aid. You should tell admissions about the situation. If they aren’t understanding and helpful, then that school isn’t for you.

  • M

    Hm, I oddly enough went to a non-christian university that was nonetheless in Missouri (WUSTL for those who are aware)… And my dorm was very christian. Came out, lost all my friends, 125,000$ later still completely miserable and had to leave. Still not completely out of my parents control though and it’s a really confusing situation; they have high incomes etc. Also the school had an anti-discrimination policy but it didn’t really deal with bullying or ostracism.

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