“A Queer Experience of Christian College”

JenKaneWe are very excited to welcome Guest Contributor, Angélique Gravely!  Angélique is a 2013 graduate of Eastern University.

I have this bad habit of telling myself that my personal suffering or experiences of injustice are unimportant, because they are not always the kind of suffering discussed. They’re not that deep traumatic suffering which crushes your heart and shakes your soul when you acknowledge their existence; therefore, my experiences must be trivial regardless of how deeply they still hurt me. I tend to feel like my suffering is not bad enough to share with people outside my close friend group because there are so many people who suffer more;thus,I keep parts of my story to myself in order to make room for those people who really deserve to have their stories heard.

Well, I’m trying to get over that which is why I want to write about my problems with the Christian college I attended. Problems rooted in the fact that I’m queer.

I didn’t go to a fundamentalist or conservative college. There were no rules banning queer students from attendance. We had a group on campus called Refuge which was dedicated to educating people about queer issues and providing support for queer students. And as an added personal bonus, I double majored in two of the most affirming departments at our school. But even with all these benefits of attending a moderate Christian college, I still had a lot to lose if too many people found out about my orientation,and I still never felt emotionally safe being completely out.

As soon as I realized, my first semester after coming out at May Term, that I would not find the full safety I desired on my campus I began to resent Eastern and even though nearly two months have passed since graduation, I still resent Eastern.

I resent that Eastern gave me tools to eventually accept my sexuality but refused to provide a college community in which I could live out my orientation to the fullest. I resent that Eastern employs a double standard by allowing openly queer students to attend but refusing to hire openly queer professors and staff. I resent that when I was a student chaplain, I had to do a case study which implied that a gay student needed to be fixed. I resent that Eastern refused to make Refuge an SGA-funded club when previous presidents asked. I resent that Eastern as a whole has not declared even a side B stance for campus or implemented a discrimination policy specifically for queer members of the Eastern community.

I will grant that Eastern has done more than some Christian schools by allowing Refuge to exist and host events over the years and by facilitating dialogue on same-sex marriage, but Eastern has not done enough to address the full spectrum of issues. Eastern claims that justice is part of its motto but does little to facilitate discussion about the systematic injustices faced by queer people. If you’re not in the right major in the right classes with the right professors or if you’re not involved in Refuge, you’re not going to hear about the suicides and the assaults. You’re not going to hear about the homelessness. You’re not going to hear about the employment discrimination and the lack of benefits.

You’re not going to hear about any of the other major issues affecting queer people around the world, and you’re most certainly not going to hear about the issues affecting queer students currently within the Eastern community. Eastern does not work to see how it can do better by its queer community. Eastern does not consider that an official statement of love and acceptance not just from certain faculty or certain departments but from the university as a whole is needed. The administration of Eastern does not think of all the students who hide who they are because they are afraid that they will not be able to serve within the community, who hide their relationships because they’re not sure if it’s okay on campus, who are desperate for a sign that God loves them regardless of who they are attracted to and regardless of their decision to be celibate or pursue relationships.

Eastern works out of what I like to call “selective justice,” choosing to face injustice only when it falls into set categories that are “safe” or “in” within the network of which Eastern is a part (not to mention only elevating a few certain ways of doing justice, but that’s a rant for another day). The full depth of queer issues is not generally one of their categories. For example, when Eastern hosted the Justice Conference this past year where there were panels on issues ranging from human trafficking to poverty, not one panel addressed queer issues. I’d bet you anything that if someone had tried to have a queer-related panel either they would have been turned down or they would not have been talked about in any of the Justice Conference propaganda they littered around campus.

To make things worse, Eastern habitually limits discussion of queer issues when they are discussed on campus outside of those right classes and right spaces. Example, this past year, there were a couple of debates about same-sex marriage hosted on campus and a Prism issue on queerness with a heavy focus on marriage/celibacy; but in my four years there, I don’t recall any panels or magazine issues or anything that moved beyond that same old debate into the various other issues that honestly are even more rooted in injustice in my opinion than the marriage issue (though it is definitely an example of injustice). Refuge did host a panel one year in which queer alumni came back to campus to speak about their experiences when they were students, but the fact that Eastern didn’t use that as an opportunity to look into the injustices current students might be going through and to continue dialogue about that is just another example of their restrictive nature when it comes to our issues.

No matter how accepting professors in my majors were, how many people connected to Refuge I met, how many other queer students I knew or how many discussions of same-sex marriage Eastern hosted, the action and inaction of the administration made it very clear to me that my internal (i.e. emotional, psychological, and spiritual) safety as a queer student was not guaranteed by them. It felt as if they were saying that my queer voice and the voices of my queer community did not matter enough.

They could let us attend the school. They could let us have a group. They could let alumni talk about how much worse it used to be for queer students. They could even give us public spaces to hear debates about us getting married. But giving us anything else we desired was too much to sacrifice for the likes of us. Taking a stance against injustice toward our community as a whole or even simply within the Eastern community was too risky.

I spent the last two years of college being afraid that the wrong person would realize that I’m bisexual and think I was too risky. Too risky to be in ministries on campus. Too risky to have leadership positions. Too risky to be in community with people I loved. And it hurts my soul to think that there could be other people still attending Eastern that feel the same way or even worse.

Even though I’m now mostly free from Eastern, I will not be content until every single queer student that currently attends or will attend Eastern feels safe to live their lives as they see fit. I will not be happy until queer faculty are allowed to teach and inspire students without having to hide who they are. I will not donate a single dollar to the institution of Eastern (no matter how many emails the alumni association sends me) until I see that change.

What I will do, though, is continue to write and speak up about queer Christian experiences until my voice is so loud that Eastern has to look at me and say, “Damn. We can’t ignore that one.” Until Eastern has to expand their definition of justice and let alumni like me come and speak not just at Perspective panels and Refuge organized events but at chapel and Faith Forum and Missions Forum and Encounter Weekend and write in Spirit and sell books on queer justice in the bookstore. Until tearing down queer injustice is an option for service learning. Until every opportunity on campus for students and staff is in no way threatened or hindered by being queer.

I love Eastern. I could never imagine myself going through the past four years at any other place with any other students or professors. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if I hadn’t gone to Eastern.

It is because I love Eastern that I am challenging it so intensely. I have seen the goodness of Eastern. I have witnessed Eastern’s potential. All I want as a queer alumni is to see Eastern live into that potential. I want to see Eastern acknowledge queer students and faculty on campus and how the administration has let them down. I want to see Eastern acknowledge the alumni working against injustice toward the queer community just like they acknowledge alumni working in poor communities, foreign communities, etc. I want to see Eastern acknowledge that injustice toward the queer community should not be ignored.

I want to see Eastern become a completely safe space for everyone regardless of orientation, gender, sex, or other identity. So that students to come can have an even greater experience of Eastern than I did.

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
-James Baldwin

One thought on ““A Queer Experience of Christian College”

  1. Pingback: Welcome aboard, Angélique! | OneEastern