Are Christian Colleges Oppressive to LGBT Students?

by Sara Kohler, Guest Writer

Justin Massey, Co-Writer

As a lesbian and a current student at Wheaton College, I feel it is important for me to speak out on an issue that concerns me. Each year I have studied here, Wheaton has ranked as one of the top 5 most LGBT-unfriendly campuses in the United States. Instead of being troubled, I have seen our community shrug off this ranking. The common response to this accusation is that Wheaton is only considered LGBT-unfriendly by ‘secular liberals’ or ‘progressive Christians’ who see our college as oppressive simply because same-sex relationships are not affirmed. This implies that Wheaton College is not actually an oppressive place for LGBT students. These skeptics would suggest that LGBT students only think they are oppressed by not being allowed to date, which isn’t oppression at all, just biblical living.

It’s true that Christians who support LGBT people often do—and should—believe Wheaton is oppressive to its LGBT students. However, the difficulties these students face are a result of much more than just the college’s policy which prohibits ‘homosexual behavior.’ While these vague policies are a source of frustration and confusion for some, the pain and isolation LGBT students experience is evidence of a culture of ignorance. The oppression they feel comes from a deeper message communicated to them, one which does not affirm their value as contributing members of the community or even their lives.

Not being allowed to date is not the worst thing in the world. There are messages communicated to me and my LGBT peers which are much more crushing, including the idea that our desire for intimacy is inherently sinful, utterly broken. This message is uniquely delivered to LGBT people and perpetuates serious shame within an already disadvantaged community.

Conversations happen around campus which try to address LGBT issues, but they often exclude the voices of current LGBT students. These attempts appear only mildly sympathetic, and they often suggest—if indirectly—that LGBT Christians must work to change something about themselves which they have no control over. It feels to many that our college is unwilling—or unable—to outright clarify the value of its LGBT students. This truth is clear in Wheaton’s refusal to speak out against the “hope for change” or reparative therapy which has been so clearly shown as dangerous again and again.

I have personally prayed for my orientation to change. I have sobbed in my room, begging God to take my feelings away. This mentality, this hope I had of one day being straight caused nothing but shame and hurt within me. I am not alone in this experience, as many other LGBT Christians have dealt with the deep pain associated with a practice some consider “hope,” but which is shown to be destructive. The fall of the ex-gay organization, Exodus International, along with many of their leaders rebuking the practice of orientation change is proof that what was previously an “option” for LGBT Christians, simply isn’t.

As Christians, we must listen to the voices of our LGBT brothers and sisters since only they can speak firsthand to their experience.  Yet, so many heterosexual believers still deny the plain evidence which shows orientation to be an inherent characteristic of LGBT persons. If Wheaton College, and other Christian institutions want to truly support their LGBT members they could start by demonstrating their love and support—this includes speaking out against practices which perpetuate misinformation and abuse.

Being LGBT at Wheaton is difficult for reasons far more significant than the college’s dating policy. Evangelical Christianity at times views LGBT people as a special group of broken, sinful people, but in reality we should embrace these members of Christ’s body as our own. Let’s speak out against practices like reparative therapy and demonstrate clearly the value that all people have as children of God. The lives of all people are important and beautiful regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

I would encourage institutions like Wheaton College to engage LGBT people personally about their experiences and to learn how to engage in respectful, inclusive dialogue in order to create a safe, supportive environment. I don’t yet know if Wheaton can become a place where LGBT students can truly thrive or if we can ever get our ranking off of the list of most LGBT-unfriendly schools, yet we must attempt to make that possible. I believe God can accomplish incredible work in our communities. This is a ‘hope for change’ I can fully affirm.

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3 Comments

  1. Well and courageously put, Sara and Justin!
    The oppression you describe is truly insidious because, as you say, it has to do with your inherent value as persons, persons, who are of course as we all are, so much more than your sexuality and yet whose sexuality is an inherent part of you. You WITH your sexuality are totally loved and accepted by God.
    As a therapist with 35 years’ experience, I declare as strongly as I can it’s of crucial importance that you, and all LGBT members of the Wheaton family (of which I’m one) — or of any oppressed group for that matter — and whether counting yourselves as Christian or not — you must firmly refuse to define yourselves as worthy of any sort of shame. You must absolutely refuse to buy into the definition of yourself you see reflected from society, church, Wheaton, even, if that’s the case, your family, if it denigrates who you know yourself to be. (Sexuality is the one oppression in which people are denied even their family’s support.)
    Something to be ashamed of? God forbid! That is NOT who you are. Not who you are in God’s eyes. You must declare your freedom in Christ. And then as St. Paul declared to the Galatians, dealing as they were with an oppression of that day which declared because they were uncircumcised they were “less than”: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” [Galatians 5:1] You too must stand fast and arm yourselves with truth. And please know when you do and the longer you do it will get easier, you will get stronger. Look, it’s happening already! Thank you. And please know you have a cloud of witnesses standing with you, cheering for you and praying for you!

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