A few weeks ago, I walked into a half-full Gough Great Room where the Human Sexuality Task Force (HSTF) sat, prepared to answer questions and hear thoughts from students. They began the panel by reading two questions—one, it seemed, from each “side” of this “conversation”—and the panel responded to both questions. I thought that was quite fair, despite my own feelings about hiring LGBTQ faculty. Thereafter, I was struck by the level of fear students voiced about the upcoming process. In a way, it was comforting to know that I’m not the only one.
How many of us know what it’s like to be talked about but have little to no voice in the matter? How many of us know that those conversations are had and that they directly impact our mental health, academic performance, and spiritual health? How many of us feel forced to lie about who we are, regardless of what we may believe theologically? I’m not confident to give a number, but I know that these are depressingly characteristic of my own experience, the experiences of other LGBTQ people on this campus, and the experiences of LGBTQ people in the Church.
Conservatives may be scared that their voices aren’t heard, despite the fact that voices like theirs run, fund, and represent the university in most areas. On the other hand, I am scared that the suicide attempt rate of LGB youth will remain four times greater than that of straight youth. I am scared that it will remain that nearly half of all transgender people attempt suicide in their lifetime. And it is not that LGBTQ people are inherently disturbed. It is that conservative ideologies that govern our society (and university) are inherently destructive to the lives and sacredness of LGBTQ people. Demonizing LGBTQ people (sometimes quite literally—ever hear of “praying the gay away?”) is a direct cause of our horrific suicide attempt rates. We are so demonized, in fact, that after graduating from here, I would not be able to work as faculty at EU because my sexuality is considered, according to the faculty handbook, “detrimental to the well-being of the University” (p. 105).
But when LGBTQ faculty are detrimental to the university’s well-being, no amount of finagling and denial can remove the fact that this implies that LGBTQ students are also detrimental to the university’s well-being. It was clear from a number of student responses at the HSTF event that, in a fascinating twist, the utter absence or invisibility of LGBTQ professors is detrimental to the well-being of the university. This is not only because LGBTQ students have no LGBTQ role models and are given contradictory messages from the university about our worth to the community, but also because everyone in the community loses out on the unique perspectives that LGBTQ people bring to the proverbial table. When I came out, many of my friends and family members learned far more through knowing someone who is in the LGBTQ community than by reading egregious numbers of books on the subject. In light of this, if anyone wants to learn more about LGBTQ people and issues, don’t just read a book on queer theory (in fact, I’d advise against it); go talk to someone who is actually LGBTQ. I promise, we’re not contagious, and we’re not sexual predators.
Over the past two years, many of us have asked questions like, “Is being gay or trans a sin?” or “How can we agree to disagree?” Meanwhile, I and a handful of others have wondered, “Can love exist outside of justice and solidarity?” Along with the esteemed Cornel West who once said that “justice is what love looks like in public,” my answer is a firm “no.” I would hope that an institution that prides itself on faith, reason, and justice would share that very disposition. Homophobia and transphobia are sins, and Eastern University would do well to repent of them.
Sources: thetrevorproject.org, youtube.com