Why Go to a School That Rejects Who You Love?

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

The most up-voted comment on the Atlantic piece that sparked our discussion thread is the following:

I say this as a gay man: Instead of paying for the privilege of attending a university that thinks you are an abomination—and thereby supporting them in their efforts to keep their awful beliefs alive—perhaps it would be wiser to attend one of the many (excellent) secular colleges and universities of our nation?

I have spoken out against and will continue to speak out against discriminatory behavior from businesses and government, but when you do business with philosophically-based organizations—i.e. the service they offer is inextricably bound with their philosophy—you tacitly agree that they are in some way correct, or at least due respect. So while you have every reason to expect a public bakery to sell you cakes without imposing their worldview on you, you don't have the right to the same expectation when you submit to an organization dedicated to promoting a particular worldview.

Separately but very relatedly, a reader emails the hello@ account with the personal story seen below. Among many points, she describes how “the most painful thing” about being lesbian at a Christian school is the sentiment expressed by the reader excerpted above:

Thank you for your discussion about LGBT students at Christian colleges. I am a lesbian who attended Olivet Nazarene University, which is part of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and has a statement in its code of conduct prohibiting “homosexual acts.”

What your readers convey regarding the silence and confusion around LGBT issues is absolutely accurate. The worst part is that as a shy 18 year old desperate to fit in with the school culture, I was traveling alone. I did not know how far I could go before putting my education and livelihood in jeopardy. Could I attend pride or wear a rainbow bracelet? Could I write about and talk about my experiences in class, in front of my professors? Could I come out to my RA? My friends? Even more than disciplinary action, I feared social rejection.

It was painful enough losing friends when I came out. More painful than the once friendly acquaintances who avoided eye contact when I walked by, were the friends who provided their hesitant “non-judgment” but then spoke in hushed tones whenever I brought up a romantic interest or spoke of my struggles coming out to my family. I was the subject of prayer meetings I wasn’t even aware of, and of conversations between roommates who weren’t comfortable living with me anymore.

It was painful enough being turned away from counseling services when I said that I was in a same-sex relationship and didn’t view it it as a sin, or sitting through mandatory chapel services of “ex-gays” who said I needed to pray about my sexuality (as if I hadn’t spent night after night crying myself to sleep and begging for God to change me).

But the most painful thing, what I heard from fellow students at a school whose motto is “we believe you belong here,” and what people say over and over in the comments section of articles like these, is “why go to a college that doesn’t accept you?”

As someone who grew up in a Baptist church, who never missed youth group, who considered faith the most important part of her life, and wanted to attend a school that shared those values, it hurts to hear “why did you even come here?” As a bright student who wanted to be a music teacher and received a life changing scholarship to a school with a great music program, it hurts to hear “why did you even come here?”

But even more, as a kid who didn’t yet fully understand or reconcile my sexuality and just wanted to figure out what God wanted for me, who wanted to make my parents happy, it hurts that people can’t understand why a gay kid would end up at a school like Olivet.

Students don’t choose where to go to college based on their sexual orientation. A number of factors influence this choice including location of the school, programs the school offers, great sports team, cost of tuition, opinions of ones family who are often funding the education, extracurricular activities, and so forth. For some including myself, a faith-based education is the only one their parents will financially support. To say “why would you even come here?” is simply petty and unfair, and it refuses to confront the real issues  that LGBT students face at Christian colleges.