What is it Like Being Gay at a Christian University?
It must be uniquely troubling to live as a LGBTQ person in an overtly conservative Christian setting. I studied at Harding University, a conservative Christian school affiliated with the Church of Christ, and I knew several students there who were gay. For my part, I knew what it was like to feel intellectually out of place at Harding University, and that was a big part of my story so far. But now there is a “zine” published by the HU Queer Press that tells the story of what it is like to be gay in an environment like Harding University.
The first issue of the zine is called “The State of the Gay at Harding University.” There are common themes that are woven into the contents of the zine – journal entries, class notes, and editorials written by current and former LGBTQ students of Harding University. Many of the writers express anxiety about coming out and suffering moral judgment from their friends and peers. They share stories or even transcribed class notes where university professors cite utterly discredited research claiming that homosexuality results from child abuse or listing “warning signs” of pre-homosexuality. Several writers rail against Integrity Ministries, the gay therapy offered at the school.
Some of the anecdotes and insights are enough to bring tears to your eyes when you read them and think about the real people behind the words. The introduction lays out one of the purposes behind the zine before getting to a heartbreaking plea (all emphasis in quotes below is mine):
We are here to share with you our struggle. We are here to be a voice for the voiceless who are quietly dying inside the walls of our campus. We want you to know us. We are your friends, co-workers, students, family members, fellow worshipers, professors, athletes, and scholars. We are that guy who you see running on the track or that quiet book worm, that girl doing her hair or that softball butch. We have gone with you to social club functions, and you sit next to us in class. We are your roommates and the best friend to whom you tell your every secret.
Our voices are muted, our stories go unheard, and we are forced into hiding. We are threatened with re-orientation therapy, social isolation, and expulsion. We are told stories and lies that we are disgusting sinners who are damned to hell, that we are broken individuals and child abusers. We are told we will live miserable lives and are responsible for the collapse of civilization.
LGBTQ people who attend Harding are forced into hiding in large part because of its exceptionally backwards social views on homosexuality. In my experience, the vast majority of the professors and students there believe that homosexuality is a sin and a choice. Excerpts from a current course at Harding (“Christian Home”), taught by a member of the Bible faculty, Joe Brumfield, should embarrass anyone who has ever been associated with the school:
Homosexuality: How it can be Prevented
It is possible in many or most cases to prevent homosexuality…
Pathological Circumstances of Homosexuality:
- Dad is distant, gone, alcoholic, won’t bond with a sensitive, non-athletic son or artistic son
- When dad comes home from work if son is happy to see him, Dad makes him feel happy, if Dad is affirming no problems likely with son becoming homosexual
Certain Signs of Pre-Homosexuality
- Repeatedly stated desire to be other sex or act like other sex
- Strong preference for cross dressing or pretending to dress like other gender
- Strong and persistence desire for opposite roles
Joe Brumfield continues to teach academic garbage like this today. The first issue of the zine published by HU Queer Press contains even more horrific evidence like the above from Harding’s classrooms. In an essay titled “No Safe Place,” the writer explains the emotional drain of being forced to remain in the closet:
The closet is oppressive. It’s suffocating. The constant fear of people finding out, wondering who will still love you and who will try to make you miserable is enough to drive any normal person to desperate measures. Harding is that environment.
Not only is Harding’s environment toxic for LGBTQ members of its community, but its attempts to “help” those members actually make things much much worse. Harding offers counseling services to students “struggling” with same-sex attraction while its chapel speakers and Bible faculty continually reinforce its dysfunctional nature. In another entry in the zine, a student writes:
[Age] 19: Three days a week in Harding’s Counseling Center. I moved from therapist to therapist trying to find a way out. It was my final act of desperation. The choices were as follow: be saved from my closeted sin or death. I planned it all out. If this failed I would die. I had already gotten the gun. It was under my dorm room bed… My dreams of love ended as counselors told me I would be alone for the rest of my life, but that I should take comfort in God.
Aside from the obvious and deep sympathy I feel for these writers and others like them who live in the stifling atmosphere of Harding University, the other major reaction that I experienced was incredulity that so many people in the LGBTQ community remain affiliated with Christianity at all. Although I have come into contact with numerous gay Christians (far more than I have with gay atheists, actually), I am always shocked to realize that these people live. My incredulity is exacerbated when the Christian community with which the LGBTQ individuals choose to remain affiliated is as conservative as the Church of Christ or Harding University is. I have not walked in their shoes, but I see the anti-gay bigotry and hatred deeply rooted in the churches, Christians, and teachings, and I will never stop wondering how anyone wouldn’t want to just walk away from all that.
If you are curious what it is like being gay in a conservative Christian environment like Harding University, there is no substitute for reading the words from those anonymous souls who have been there. This zine contains moving declarations, heartbreaking stories, and indicting evidence. It takes a strong stand against homophobia and is written in an environment that is absolutely seething with it. Everyone affiliated with Harding University or concerned with making social progress for LGBTQ people should read what the HU Queer Press has published.