Reporter's Notebook

Struggling With Same-Sex Attraction at a Christian School
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Readers share their personal stories of grappling with stigma and shame on campus. Email with your own experience.

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Secret Sexuality at a Christian School

After reading David R. Wheeler’s piece for us on the “LGBT politics of Christian colleges,” a reader in Georgia shares his own story:

I went to a Christian college in a southern city from 1975 to 1978. I am a bisexual male, though I didn’t fully recognize my homosexual side; I just knew that naked guys interested me at least as much as naked women, and in my dorm there were plenty of opportunities to see men in the flesh. A great experience, though I had to work hard to keep from seeming overly interested, if you know what I mean.

The college administration banned any sort of sexual activity, but it strongly encouraged male/female romances. The college president was famous for saying in chapel when he announced one of the college-sponsored socials, “You might meet your future wife!”

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.

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.”

A reader provides a perspective from the faculty side of our discussion on same-sex attraction on campus:

I read with interest the article you published about LGBT politics at Christian colleges. I happen to be gay and teach at a member institution of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. I have written three anonymous essays for Inside Higher Ed. Here is the link to the most recent one.

The other two essays are here and here. The latter begins:

My story is neither dramatic nor a profile in courage. Raised in a conservative Christian home, I only knew that homosexuality was a very serious sin. Then in graduate school, I fell in love with someone of the same sex -- ironically enough, a conservative Christian like myself. My feelings scared me greatly. This person loved me as well, but we never articulated what those feelings were to each other until much later, when the feelings had changed. Since that time I have loved other persons of my sex, but only recently have I accepted my sexual orientation, when I am already teaching at a CCCU institution.

Our next reader, who is bisexual, attended Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. That private school’s community covenant states: “[W]e are to avoid such sinful practices as drunkenness, stealing, dishonesty, profanity, occult practices, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, and sexually exploitative or abusive behavior.” Here’s our anonymous reader:

When I signed the covenant, I was an immature home-schooled child living in a conservative Christian household. I had a closed mind, had not come to my own beliefs, and knew little of myself. It was only after years of growth while attending college that I learned to accept that I was bisexual, and that parts of Christianity could not only accept but embrace my non-heterosexuality.

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!)