Being Gay at Jerry Falwell's University

A former student's account of coming out at Liberty University
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Flickr / rwkvisual

It was the fifth time that night that my Theology and Biblical Greek professor was calling. And, like the previous times, no way was I answering the phone. I knew why he was calling. Earlier that day, I emailed all of my professors to tell them I'd made the difficult decision to withdraw from school. As my cell phone went to voice mail, I crawled into bed under my covers, dreading the next morning when the rest of my professors would get my email, when the university would call my parents, when my roommates would ask me why I wasn't waking up for class. "Why did I come here?" I asked myself. "Out of all the colleges in the world, why did I pick this one?"

After a few minutes, I got out bed to get a drink, and there in the kitchen, I found my roommate Jake looking into the open refrigerator, buck naked.

"Oh, hey, man," he said when he saw me. "Midnight snack?" he asked.

"Yeah, I just can't sleep."

"I hear ya," he said, and bent over to grab some jelly from the bottom shelf.

And as I looked at his perfectly formed, muscular ass, I closed my eyes and asked myself, "Why would I, the world's most hypersexual fag, come to Jerry Falwell's university?!"

It's a typical story, really. Boy meets girl. Girl goes to college. Boy follows her to college. Girl decides to date other boys. Boy decides that's a good idea, and also dates other boys. Like I said, typical.

No one in my family is a college graduate, so when my girlfriend announced she was going to Liberty, it was just understood that I'd go there, too. My parents were extremely religious, so they liked that Liberty was a Christian school. My dad was actually a pastor. We went to one of those obnoxious churches where people pray in tongues and parade around the sanctuary carrying banners that said "Maranatha." Because this church marched to the beat of its own drum-driven worship music, we thought we were liberal Christians. The irony, though, was that the congregation was incredibly legalistic and nitpicky. If you smoked, you were going to hell. If you drank alcohol, you were going to hell. If you listened to secular music...well you weren't necessarily going to hell, but you were backslidden. You can imagine, then, that even if I felt same-sex desires, I was scared to act on them, let alone think about them. And anyway, I wasn't free to think about my sexuality because I was dating the girl God sent me to marry.

Of course, that all changed when we got to Liberty and broke up. I was on my own, away from my parents, away from my church, and surrounded by charming Southern gentlemen. Everywhere I turned there were hot guys: in the dorms, in the showers, in the pool, in the gym. They ate with me, and studied with me, and wrestled with me during "Man Games" on Thursday nights. But I wasn't about to make a move on any of them. After all, this was Liberty.

Liberty was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist minister often known for homophobia, bigotry, and the Moral Majority. My New York friends know that Falwell's the guy who blamed 9/11 on the gays. He said something about pointing his finger in their—our—faces and saying, "You! You helped this happen!"

"So you went to Liberty..." and they let the last syllable of that word trail off.

"Ya, I went to Liberty," I say, preparing myself for the next two minutes.

"So...how was that?" And then they smile.

Even though I have the reply down to an exact science, I still ask them what they mean.

"You know, because you're... well, I'm assuming..." and they do this gesture with their hands which, I think, means "gay."

"Well, Liberty is very different from what you might think of it. It gets a bad rap because of a few of Falwell's soundbytes, but all in all, I really enjoyed it."

That, apparently, isn't a satisfactory enough answer for them, and they want to know the real juicy stuff.

"No, I'm talking about being gay." They exaggerate that word as if, maybe, I am gay-deaf, or gay-slow. But really, I'm just gay-annoyed.

"Oh," I say, pretending that only now have I realized what they have been not-so-subtly implying with their sign language and smiles.

"Well, you know, I'm not a very gay person," I say, which causes their smile to grow even bigger. I know this smile because it's the one my friend Mary gave me when I told her I was gay. She smiled and said, "Of course you are, honey." She was the first student I came out to at Liberty.

"I mean, I'm not a parade-and-politics type of gay," I continue. "I'm gay, sure, and most people know it. But I don't really work it into conversations unless it naturally comes up. So at Liberty, most people probably figured I was gay, but most people kept that suspicion to themselves." Most people, that is, except for Dr. Prior.

After I made an ambiguous and slightly off-color remark about Oscar Wilde during her British Literature class, Dr. Prior (who writes for The Atlantic from time to time) asked me to come talk with her during her office hours the next day. I agreed to stop by because, well, she was fabulous, and I couldn't imagine having an awkward conversation with someone that fashionable. After all, her daily mantra—which she borrowed from her beloved Wilde—is, "One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art."

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Brandon Ambrosino is a writer and professional dancer based in Baltimore. He has written for McSweeney's, The Huffington Post, Gawker, Buzzfeed, and Baltimore Magazine.

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