By Justin Massey
It is pressing that we start listening to the valid pain of minorities in our community and begin empowering the beloved of God rather than defending the actions of those who wrong them.
Yesterday morning the students of Wheaton College gathered together, eager to present candid questions to the college president at the annual Town Hall Chapel. Students approached the standing microphones—some asking light, comical questions and some engaging more controversial or serious matters.
The student body showed great respect, occasionally applauding, as these students spoke. However, there was no applause for one student who spoke against the injustice he has witnessed his LGBT peers experience. A brother in Christ and ally to the LGBT community, he boldly questioned the oppression and exclusion that has harmed a demographic we should be embracing and loving. Instead of being greeted by support, he faced mostly silence before an apple was thrown at him by a peer in the crowd. No matter why this individual decided to throw the apple, it was more than simply disruptive. It was hurtful. For some of us in Wheaton’s LGBT community, it felt as if this student was spitting in our face as this ally voiced the deep pain we experience day-to-day.
Interestingly, the response of others following the incident disturbs me more than the action itself. I saw peers exert more effort into rationalizing the offense rather than demonstrating support to the LGBT community whose experiences were disrespected. From three separate individuals I have heard that the disruptive student simply felt “the question was just too long,” “the tone of the inquiring student appeared rude,” and even “ it was simply a joke gone wrong.” Each of these answers has one thing in common: they take responsibility off of the offending individual in an attempt to absolve this student of displaying any prejudice against a minority group. This incident affected more people than just the student who was hit. While it is wrong to show disrespect to any person, acting against an individual who raises minority concerns holds a different weight. It affirms the hateful messages that tell these already disadvantaged persons that they are not valued and undeserving of respect. Therefore, the intent of the disruptive student does not need justification or clarification because, no matter the reason, the incident perpetuated the isolation and pain LGBT students experience.
I find dismissive responses to be quite common in our society more generally. When a majority person offends a minority we are quick to offer up excuses. We live in a world that encourages us to rationalize our micro-aggressions rather than own up to them. As a male and a white person, I have seen this play out in my own privileged communities. We’ll do anything to avoid having to consider one of our own to “racist” or “sexist” as if coming to terms with the reality of our offenses and prejudices will bring more pain to our community than we have caused to minorities through our own actions. When we see a black person, a trans* person, a woman or any other minority attacked or offended we often brush this off and consider it to simply be a person in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” If that is the case it seems minority people are in a perpetual state of being in “the wrong place at the wrong time” as they face disproportionate rates of violence and discrimination just because of who they are.
We need to consider thoughtfully, especially as people of faith, why we are so quick to defend our actions when they hurt others. We are called to confess our errors and seek reconciliation with those we wrong. If we are more concerned about excusing the intent behind a disrespectful action than the impact it has on those affected, we are not adequately displaying Christ’s profound love and humility. We must demonstrate to our peers that we are unwilling to stand for homophobic disrespect and seek healing and forgiveness for the ways we have hurt our peers. We must be committed to loving and embracing those who are oppressed rather than rationalizing the actions of those who oppress. Let’s stop being defensive in our failings but rather join together as a confessional community united in our pursuit of justice.