Many of the newly assertive students grew up as Christians and developed a sense of their sexual identities only after starting college, and after years of inner torment. They spring from a new generation of evangelical youths that, over all, holds far less harsh views of homosexuality than its elders.
But in their efforts to assert themselves, whether in campus clubs or more publicly on Facebook, gay students are running up against administrators who defend what they describe as God’s law on sexual morality, and who must also answer to conservative trustees and alumni.
Facing vague prohibitions against “homosexual behavior,” many students worry about what steps — holding hands with a partner, say, or posting a photograph on a gay Web site — could jeopardize scholarships or risk expulsion.
“It’s like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object,” said Adam R. Short, a freshman engineering student at
A few more liberal religious colleges, like
'Contrary to biblical teaching'
But the more typical response has come from Baylor, which with 15,000 students is the country’s largest Baptist university, and which has refused to approve the sexuality forum.
“Baylor expects students not to participate in advocacy groups promoting an understanding of sexuality that is contrary to biblical teaching,” said Lori Fogleman, a university spokeswoman.
Despite the rebuff, more than 50 students continue to hold weekly gatherings of their Sexual Identity Forum, and will keep seeking the moral validation that would come with formal status, said Samantha A. Jones, a senior and president of the group.
“The student body at large is ready for this,” said Saralyn Salisbury, Ms. Jones’s girlfriend and also a senior at Baylor. “But not the administration and the Regents.”
“We want to engage these complex issues, and to give help and guidance to students who are struggling with same-sex attraction,” said Jean-Noel Thompson, the university’s vice president for student life. “But we are not going to embrace any advocacy for gay identity.”
The university blocked access to the site on the university’s Internet server, which helped cause the site to go viral in the world of religious universities.
At chapel, Harding’s president, David B. Burks, told students that “we are not trying to control your thinking,” but that “it was important for us to block the Web site because of what it says about Harding, who we are, and what we believe.” Mr. Burks called the site’s very name, huqueerpress.com, offensive.
Most evangelical colleges say they do not discipline students who admit to same-sex attractions — only those who engage in homosexual “behavior” or “activity.” (On evangelical campuses, sexual intercourse outside marriage is forbidden for everyone.)
Abilene Christian sees a big difference, Mr. Thompson said, between a student who is struggling privately with same-sex feelings, and “a student who in e-mails, on Facebook and elsewhere says ‘I am publicly gay, this is a lifestyle that I advocate regardless of where the university stands.’ ”
Amanda Lee Genaro said she was ejected in 2009 from North Central University, a Pentecostal Bible college in Minneapolis as she became more assertive about her gay identity. She had struggled with her feelings for years, Ms. Genaro said, when she was inspired by a 2006 visit to the campus of SoulForce, a national group of gay religious-college alumni that tries to spark campus discussion.
Gay students say they are often asked why they are attending Christian colleges at all. But the question, students say, is unfair.
Many were raised in intensely Christian homes with an expectation of attending a religious college and long fought their homosexuality. They arrive at school, as one of the Harding Web authors put it, “hoping that college would turn us straight, and then once we realized that this wasn’t happening, there was nothing you could do about it.”
The students who do come out on campus say that it is a relief, but that life remains hard.
“I’m lonely,” said Taylor Schmitt, in his second year at Abilene Christian after arriving with a full scholarship and a hope that his inner self might somehow change. By the end of his first year, Mr. Schmitt said, he accepted his homosexuality. He switched to English from the Bible studies department, which, he said, “reeked of the past deceptions and falsehoods I’d created around myself.”
Rather than transferring and giving up his scholarship, he is taking extra classes to graduate a year early.
Some of the gay students end up disillusioned with Christianity, even becoming atheists, while others have searched for more liberal churches.
David Coleman was suspended by
Mr. Coleman, 28, is now enrolled at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in
“I have a calling,” he said.
This article, headlined "Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity," first appeared in The New York Times. Reposted at http://keystothecloset.blogspot.com/
Copyright © 2010 The New York Times