Labeled as a Pedophile Simply for Being Gay

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

A reader, Seldon, just came across our series from a few months ago featuring readers sharing their experiences of being gay or lesbian at a religious institution of learning. Seldon tells a disturbing story of being outed as a gay man in the late ‘80s at a Christian liberal arts college in Wilmore, Kentucky:

Greetings from Dallas, Texas! It has been nearly 29 years since this native Kentuckian was a student at Asbury College. Although I spent most of my first year there trying to fit in and going through the motions of trying to be straight (casually dating young women, etc.), I had known deep down inside since puberty that I was attracted to other males.

After meeting some fellow students who were gay or gay friendly, I began to accept my orientation as a gift from God and to love myself as one of God’s children. I poured myself into my Elementary Education studies, achieved a high GPA, and made some wonderful friends.

At the end of my senior year, however, I was outed by my roommate’s girlfriend. (She later told me that my being gay wasn’t a problem now, but “since all gay men grow up to become sexually attracted to kids,” she had to do something!)

My adviser and class sponsor called me into his office and, after interrogating me, swore that if he ever could prove that I was a “practicing homosexual” that he “would do everything in (his) power to make sure that (I) never taught!” I was devastated beyond words. I wanted to teach more than anything in the world, and at that moment I truly felt that everything I had worked so hard to achieve was being ripped from me.

I was also grilled with questions by the Dean of Men in his office. I was forced to lie about who I was in order to graduate. It was very scary time. I was numb with fear, anxiety, distrust, confusion, and panic.

My supervising teacher was informed of the “situation” and tried to talk me out of becoming a teacher. I’ll never forget her questions: “Wouldn’t you rather be an interior designer or a hairdresser?” (It sounds funny now, but at the time it was very frustrating.) When she couldn’t talk me out of becoming a teacher, she lowered my grade to a 2.0 ( I had a cumulative 3.5 GPA at the time) and would not sign off on the official paperwork recommending me to the teaching profession.

It all happened very quickly, and without a support system, it was too much. I fell into a deep depression that spiraled downward until, in a moment of utter helplessness, I took an near deadly overdose of sleeping pills and passed out on the floor of my dorm room late on a Saturday night. Fortunately a dear friend, who realized how upset I was, came to my rescue, literally breaking into my locked room and rushing me to the emergency room, where my stomach was pumped and I gradually regained consciousness.

I somehow managed to graduate and moved to Florida. After seven years as a classroom teacher (including two years as Teacher of the Year), I was asked to serve as a Curriculum Specialist at the district level. I thoroughly enjoyed the next two years coaching new teachers and working to rewrite the district’s curriculum.

At that time, I was approached by the educational publishing industry to work as a consultant. This great opportunity involved a move to the Lone Star State and starting a new life in Dallas. That was nearly 15 years ago, and today I am still enjoying a career in educational sales.

I am very active in the Episcopal Church, where I met my life partner. We have shared 18 wonderful years together and were married in Cape Cod two years ago. Being in a Christ-centered, monogamous, caring, gay relationship may not be something that many “Christians” understand or accept, but I look forward to the day when all of God’s children can learn to love and accept each other regardless of religion, race, age, or gender orientation.

Although that nearly fateful night when I hit rock bottom seems several lifetimes ago, I still carry a silent reminder of what fear and self-hatred can do to someone in a moment of weakness: a slight heart murmur. Each year during my annual physical my doctor reminds me of this condition, which in turn reminds me of my experience at Asbury College and a time in my life when I almost bought into the lies that Asbury was touting: that one couldn’t be a gay Christian, that being gay was a choice—a sinful choice at that!—and that as long as I was true to myself, I couldn’t ever please God.

Today I know beyond a doubt that I am a Child of God who is loved, accepted, and nurtured by God and who has so much of God’s love to share with the world.  No one can take that knowledge away from me.

But I worry about those young people who are at Asbury now. What kind of “wake-up call” will have to happen before the faculty and staff and  realize their homophobia and bigotry must stop? Will a student have to successfully kill herself before they are willing to have an open dialogue? How many students will have to lie about who they are and “die” a little bit every day before they are willing to have the conversation?