I was disheartened – but not surprised – while perusing college survey websites last year. On a particular website, student’s thoughts and opinions are gathered on the colleges and universities that they have attended. One response from a former student struck a chord. The student had this to say about Malone:
“…the whole atmosphere is pretty stifling. Lots of holier-than-thous walking around…As a gay former student, I was miserable, and nearly took my life on more than one occasion…My advice? Keep looking.”
These student responses are in the public domain and comprise an internet-wide database that pulls student opinions from multiple college search websites. Chances are, students read statements like these before they make it to campus.
I’m often asked why I do what I do. Why is the message of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion on Christian campuses and the Church so important to me? Why Malone? Some have suggested that I transfer to a different community. Somewhere more “open-minded.” Somewhere more welcoming to the idea of being a person of faith and gay. A few years ago, I would’ve been unsure of how to answer this question.
The topic of LGBT inclusion is not just a conversation in society at large, but it is also a conversation that students and faculty across the country at Christian institutions of higher education are calling for. From other Council for Christian Colleges and Universities member institutions like Eastern University, Azusa Pacific University, Wheaton College and George Fox University, to large Christian institutions like Samford University, Liberty University and Baylor University. For many, the progress made in dialogue and visibility of LGBT students and their allies on Christian campuses is a welcomed, long-awaited event. For others, the conversation seems unnecessary.
But as the conversation has unfolded here at Malone over the past few years, I can promise you that it is incredibly necessary. Oftentimes, people will fashion the dialogue based on what is wrong about an individual, rather than what is right. Bible verses are thrown around and used as weapons to demean, diminish, and divide. In the LGBT community, these verses are referred to as the “Klobber passages,” named for their history of being used as tools to label individuals as “abominations.” I am reminded of the TED talk shown in chapel last week, where novelist Chimamanda Adichie illustrates the “danger of a single story.” This single story colors the entire discourse and neglects the diversity of God’s people. It paints a picture of a people so separated from the community that Christ envisioned; a people deemed to be in need of a “change.” Malone has certainly made strides in furthering this conversation since I arrived almost three years ago. However, Malone has experienced a growth of diversity and will only continue to do so in the proceeding years. The conversations that we have now will only serve to strengthen our community and build upon the understanding of our differences in the near future.
My story, your story, our story
When I arrived at Malone in the fall of 2009, there were several things I knew about myself – I was never going to come out at Malone, and if I did, I wouldn’t be here long. Well, I ended up eating my own words. For once in my life, I had decided to be real with myself and with my community. I knew that a combination of prayer, ex-gay ministries and a group of straight religious leaders were not going to change who I was. I decided that attempting to date women – only to tell them it wouldn’t work – was not fair to myself or to them. I decided that continuing to wage war against my own identity was not healthy. Halfway through my freshman year at Malone, I learned a new way of thriving – authenticity.
I can tell you now; coming out at Malone was not easy. In fact, coming out anywhere is difficult. And I didn’t expect it to be a walk in the park. A handful of friendships went sour; some of the interactions with people in my dorm and in class became short and awkward; and I was branded with the cliché homophobic slurs we all know. On one occasion, I was even told that I am “not a real person” because I am gay. But my story is only a megapixel of the bigger picture of LGBT students at Malone and their place in the community and the church. I am certainly not the first gay student. I am not even the first openly gay student.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied alumni serve their communities in every corner of this country and represent Malone proudly. I commend these graduates for laying the groundwork and shaping the conversation that has emerged since, they have truly been Pioneers for Christ’s [inclusive] Kingdom. And yet, there is another caption of the bigger picture – those who feel alienated and alone. Those who feel compelled to hide who they are. Those who feel that they are not welcome at our table for who they are. Those who hear messages of love and compassion, and see a church of conditional membership. It is my hope that these individuals, whoever they may be, know how valuable they are to our community and that they will always have a safe space.
Whether you are gay or straight, black or white, Protestant, Orthodox, or Catholic, democrat or republican, the beauty of our diversity strikes at the heart of our ties to the Religious Society of Friends – the guidance of every individual’s unique inner light. We all have distinct, irreplaceable layers to who we are that encompass our whole identity; an identity that is not monolithic and uniform, rather one that tells a story. And everyone at Malone has a story to tell.
So, now when I am asked why I haven’t found a different community, I know how best to respond. This is my community! The same reason I chose to attend Malone is the same reason I stayed here. Certainly, we sometimes lose sight of whose community this really belongs to, and we start to paint inaccurate portraits based on a single story. But when we acknowledge each megapixel and story, we notice remarkably diverse patterns of a larger picture – His picture.
Sam Taylor is president and founder of Safe Space and a senior psychology major.