'So Many of the Celibate Gay Christians Are Cruel'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Most of the threats to free speech on campus these days are coming from the activist left, but here’s a reminder that the Christian right has its own problem at certain schools. A reader at a Southern Baptist college in Mississippi shares her frustrations living as a lesbian:

If any of this is useful to you, please preserve my anonymity. I work as a graduate assistant, and I’m not sure whether I’d be fired or not, so I’d just prefer to play it safe.

I am one of few gay students who openly accepts my sexuality, as many of us are pressured by our peers to “pray it away” in order to make friends and for administration to allow us to serve in student positions. We are not allowed to have any sort of LGBT-friendly student organization, publish anything in the school newspaper that could be read as pro-gay rights, or participate in other ways. For example, my college compiles a literary magazine every year, but I was warned not to submit any poetry that “mentioned lesbians,” since it would be immediately discarded, regardless of any literary merit. This is just one example of the limitations on our free speech.

Most gay students here either try dating members of the opposite sex, believing that they’ve fixed themselves, or they commit their lives to celibacy. Also, I don’t think you can underestimated the roles of local churches in this forced celibacy, as many of us would lose our church memberships that we’ve had for all our lives if we came out in favor of same-sex relationships. (And forget leadership roles.)

Many of the celibate gay Christians I know claim that they freely choose the celibate life because it most correctly reflects God’s purpose, but as someone who grew up in that environment, I know that they simply don’t want to lose their church, their friends, their family, and potential career. No “free choice” involves losing all of those things.

I am thankful that I took the plunge, because I’ve been with the woman of my dreams for two years and couldn’t be more fulfilled with her. But so many of the celibate gay Christians are cruel to us. I can only guess that this is because they are so scared of being grouped in with us “sinners,” they want to put as much distance between us as possible. I’ve seen them point at us, and many of them won’t speak to us, even separately. Sometimes I feel like a total freak, but I have to remind myself to feel sorry for them, because they are simply desperate to have a normal family, a normal life, while everyone around them is saying they can’t have that unless they “pray away the gay.”

This also encourages a culture of secrecy, wherein many of the gay people in opposite-gender relationships simply turn to Grindr or Tinder for sexual fulfillment. There are several people in seemingly blissful relationships whom I know for certain use those sites to hookup.

To the faculty’s credit, most of them are more accepting than the Southern Baptist Convention would prefer, and this is why I have not transferred. As a graduate student, I hope to set a good example of a woman who enjoys a Christ-centered relationship with another woman. Since the closeted or celibate gay Christians will not speak to me, I can only hope that they notice that my girlfriend and I are not the evil, broken, God-hating liberals that they are told we are.

I apologize for the long-windedness of this story, but I wanted to provide a fuller picture than I thought the original article presented. I think many straight people, or liberal people, or people from Northern areas really have no idea just how many gay Christians still enter straight relationships as late as 2016, or how limited our rights are on Christian campuses.