By Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
After my editorial “Stop selectively prosecuting sinners,” I had several students separately approach me with their stories. They came from different homes, different majors, different stages of being “out” but all united by a collective love of the Lord.
These students fear that remaining exempt from Title IX gives license to community members personally discriminating against or hating LGBT people. Those who keep their sexuality secret do so because the only thing worse than getting kicked out of school for their sexuality is having to stay at a school that invalidates their identity.
This issue is hard for many to discuss, particularly those affected. The first student I spoke to began our conversation by interviewing me to make sure I was a safe person. I ask you as a reader to simply see these testimonies as a snapshot of how certain students have been marginalized.
One female student, who we’ll call “Catherine” to protect her privacy, began to question her faith because of the way that her fellow students treated her after she revealed her sexuality.
Those who keep their sexuality secret do so because the only thing worse than getting kicked out of school for their sexuality is having to stay at a school that invalidates their identity.
“I only told one person,” she said, “and she responded in such a vicious way. She demanded I tell my roommate, boyfriend and RD…[my sexuality] was told for me to my RD, the leader of my department, my ex, and my roommate. By the time I was ready to tell these people, they already knew.”
“Instead of loving me and working with me on accountability, they just hurled more shame on top of it,” she said. “I was already in a hole and they dug me deeper.”
Catherine believes that the issue isn’t the exemption itself but instead the precedent it sets.
“A lot of the administration has been really nice to me personally, but the exemption and the fear that’s instilled across campus that they might get kicked out if they come out—that’s not right.”
In an interview, Asbury President Sandra Gray refuted any claims that this campus is an unsafe place for gay students, alluding to an alcoholic student that enrolled here several years ago.
“He had struggled with alcoholism since he was 14,” she said. “He came here as a student, he was very involved in AA, and he’d be the first to tell you ‘I’m and alcoholic.’ I knew when he came here, and he said ‘this was the best place for me because I knew people would appreciate my struggle, they would hold me accountable and they would walk alongside of me.’”
Catherine compared her own struggles with sexuality to those of an alcoholic, but with a very different outlook than Gray.
“It was like I told them, ‘I have a drinking problem,’ and they said, ‘Oh my gosh, we hate alcoholics. You can’t be here with us. You’re no longer on the same level of humanness with us. We can’t even help you,’” she said. “They took away my friends, took away my Bible study, took away my church, took away my God in a way and made me feel completely isolated and alone in my sin and ‘alcoholism’ and left me alone with my bottle of wine.”
Jon Baker is an Asbury senior who’s openly gay. After he came out last fall, rumors began to spread about Jon doing illicit things on campus.
“It came to Quinn’s [former Resident Director of Trustees’] attention that someone saw me either Friday night or Saturday, that I was making out with a man on the front porch of GC. It was obviously untrue because Friday I was with her [friend Kerry Steinhofer] and Saturday I had left the state for the weekend.”
Baker believes that Asbury forces moral convictions instead of allowing students to interpret Scripture for themselves, saying, “I’ve been to churches that affirm gay people and say ‘you know what, they’re no different.’”
One bisexual student, who we’ll call “Paul,” dated a guy from his hometown for the entirety of his freshman year here. When they broke up, the boyfriend threatened to out Paul to Asbury’s administration in the hopes of having him expelled.
“I already felt guilty,” he said. “I also had to deal with the fear of the administration taking disciplinary action for my personal life completely off campus.”
Gray disagreed with the idea that the administration would discriminate against a student like that, saying “We never discriminate. There’s never an opportunity for us to have any discrimination toward certain people. But we do disagree with certain behaviors.”
Paul pointed out Asbury does not include sex or sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy.
“I fully get the freedom of religion thing,” he said. “I am a Christian. It will always be a part of who I am. That being said, I don’t get how we can say that certain people aren’t worth being protected.
“People here stress how Asbury is home,” he said. “For the LGBT community, there’s no way it can ever feel like home. At home you don’t have to hide who you are. You don’t have to worry about what makes you different. At home you can be you. Here I can’t be me.”
These are only three testimonies from a growing body of LGBT students who feel cast aside because of their identity. Whether the issue lies in communication or policy, a dangerous pattern is emerging.
The only “treatment” is compassion. There’s no excuse, theological or legal, to shun any one group of people from the body of Christ. The church will never be perfect, but it can rise to its duty of complete love and acceptance for a broken humanity.
Asbury is called as an institution to be an example, not an exemption. We need to continue this discussion about Title IX and ensure that all people feel welcome here regardless of sexual identity.