Gay and Happy: The Journey of a PHC Alumna

By Anonymous

At QueerPHC, we welcome guest posts that are affirming and relevant to LGBTQ students and graduates of Patrick Henry College. To submit your own guest post, email queerphc@gmail.com.

I’m an alumna of PHC, and I’m going to tell you how I – finally – came out of the closet. If you are at PHC, you probably haven’t heard a lot of narratives from people in the LGBTQ community, let alone happy ones, let alone from someone who shares your background.

I was home-schooled overseas; the fundamentalist, non-denominational Bible church that my grandfather founded was the locus of my social life. I never fit in with the girls at youth group and preferred to shoot hoops with the guys. Boys were my pals, not my crushes. I pushed down any inklings that I was gay. I told myself that I had more important things to think about than love, like college admissions. I remember catching myself staring at bikini-clad women on the beach. This is wrong, I told myself. Not only is it a sin, but if I tell anyone of these inclinations, even my parents, I will be seen as an abomination. And so I didn’t. I didn’t even fully admit these tendencies to myself.

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Homosexuality: It’s an Orientation, Not an Action

When the story of Patrick Henry College Chancellor Michael Farris’ threatened lawsuit was picked up by various news outlets and blogs in the past week, we at QueerPHC braced ourselves for the inevitable response from the Patrick Henry College community telling us that we were unnatural, immoral, unbiblical, you name it.

Instead, the response from Farris was far more disturbing. He said we don’t exist.

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Bishop Gene Robinson Reaches Out to Closeted PHC Students

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, of the Diocese of New Hampshire, recently visited the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., where he spoke with former congressman Pat Murphy about Robinson’s new book, God Believes in Love.

Robinson spoke with Queer Patrick Henry College after the presentation, and offered some encouragement to closeted students at the college. He’s used to such appeals for encouragement, and said he receives several emails a week from “some kid in podunk Idaho who thinks they’re the only gay person besides me in the world.”

“What I usually say to them is there’s just a big, wide, wonderful world out here, and it can be wonderful for gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people,” he said. “And you may have to stay where you are, you may have to be quiet about who you are for awhile, but find a few people that you can be open with, that you can be yourself with, because it will feel like an oasis in an awfully dry desert. And then when it’s possible, get out into this big wide world and meet some of us who are having the time of our lives and are not held back by being openly gay.”

Robinson said LGBTQ people who grew up in conservative environments as he did, and as many PHC students did, can do a great deal of damage to themselves.

“The hardest person to come out to is yourself, right?” he said.  “We learned all the things that everybody else was learning, and we became alienated from ourselves, not to mention our parents and our families, and so on. I think it’s a really tough row to hoe, but find some oases to feed yourself along the way, and then join this community that’s waiting to embrace you.”

As a queer Christian, it’s hard to overstate the impact that Bishop Robinson has had on the lives of people like me. To see someone who is both openly gay and openly Christian take on a bold leadership role in the church is nothing short of inspiring. At Patrick Henry College, there’s quite a bit of talk about “leading the nation and shaping the culture,” and Bishop Robinson is doing exactly that, with his ongoing role in transforming the cultural conversation on queer people of faith.

Robinson is retiring on Jan. 5 and leaving New Hampshire to move to D.C., where he hopes to assist St. Thomas’ Parish in Dupont Circle in founding a new Center for Non-Violent Communication, with the goal of changing “the nature of the debate” in the highly political city. Color me excited.

Patrick Henry College Herald Tackles Homosexuality

The Patrick Henry College Herald, a student-run publication, recently published this article on out friends and family members of current students [PDF], which also features the story of a current student who describes her former relationship with a woman.

It’s worth a read, not because I agree with what is said, but because it’s one of the first times that PHC students have openly wrestled with this issue as a student body. While the article was upsetting for me to read for reasons that I will explain in just a bit, it is also a relief to have the LGBTQ community acknowledged, and in a way that does not simply make the queer community into a faceless, vaguely threatening entity. And while I disagree strongly with the tone of the article, I commend writer Elizabeth Stinnette for taking on this project and pushing the PHC student body out of the comfortable silence that they have maintained on this issue.

Nevertheless, I wanted to highlight two of the major misconceptions in this article.

1. Being straight is part of the Christian gospel message

PHC students tend to discuss homosexuality in relation to marriage amendments and as signs of a decaying culture. However, gays and lesbians cannot be painted with a single rainbow-colored brush. A sizeable minority of students has [sic] experienced the complexity of the situation—their relatives and friends are publicly or privately homosexual. Additionally, a few students have struggled with same-sex attraction themselves. While all of these students acknowledge that homosexuality is a sin, they realize that they need to extend grace to their relatives and show them the light of the Gospel.

I just have two questions: how does one paint with a rainbow-colored brush? And where can I find one?

On a more serious note, it would be a good idea for PHC students to move beyond only acknowledging the LGBTQ community when talking about marriage amendments or the supposedly decaying culture. The first is dehumanizing, the second is demonizing.

But I still take issue with the more “loving” approach that is outlined. When a relative is gay or lesbian (the article doesn’t really acknowledge the bisexual or trans* communities), the suggested solution is extending grace and showing them the light of the gospel.

As a Christian who also happens to be a member of the queer community, I am all for grace and the light of the gospel. I want to extend it to others, and I want others to extend it to me. But when did sexual orientation become an integral part of the gospel?

I guess I must have missed that verse in Romans 10 where it says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and promise to be straight forever and ever, you will be saved.” I must have been sleeping in Sunday School when we studied John 3:16, where it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, and turns away from their homosexual desires, should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now I know that some Christians don’t see sexual orientation as an integral part of the gospel. To them, homosexuality is a sin just like a bunch of other sins, and they believe that the gospel promises that God’s love has the cleansing power to get rid of all sins.

But other Christians take that idea and run with it, and preach the damaging message that you can’t be gay and a Christian, or that if you are gay, you have to be celibate if you want to go to heaven.

There is no room in this paradigm for the out, proud gay Christian who is in or looking for a gay relationship. In this mentality, you can be out if you’re celibate, or you can be out as a “former gay.”

2. Being gay or lesbian is synonymous with having emotional and/or psychological issues

And now we get to the part of the article that really broke my heart. A student with the pseudonym “Marie” tells the story of her longterm lesbian relationship with a girl named “Donna.”

Marie and Donna both grew close after dealing with incredible tragedy and hardship in their personal lives, including Donna’s abusive mother, the deaths of several of Marie’s close family members, and the death of Donna’s cousin “Trent”, who was “the only person who loved Donna.”

Marie’s parents forced her to attend PHC; neither they nor anyone at school knew about her lesbian relationship at the time. Meanwhile, Marie dreamed of getting a job at a law office so she could take Donna out of her abusive situation.

“Things were bad between me and Donna,” Marie said. “I felt like I had abandoned her.”

Marie didn’t realize how separated they had become until a high school quarterback took Donna out on a date, got her
drunk, and raped her. Donna called Marie while she was working on her second Spinney paper.

“There was nothing I could do about it,” Marie said. Both girls sobbed over the phone.

Donna became pregnant, but she lost the baby a couple of weeks later. She and Marie had always talked about having children together and had even picked out names.

“I felt that I had lost my own child,” Marie said. They named the baby Jasper. He would have had blonde hair, blue eyes, and Donna’s smile.

After a student at PHC witnessed to Marie, she “gave up the dross and took the gold,” and now considers herself straight. Donna is still trapped in her abusive home situation.

“I think about this woman who I loved, who I was engaged to for five years …. I have to look at her and know she will go to hell because no one loved her enough to show Christ’s love for her. And it breaks my heart beyond all bearing,” Marie said.

I can’t even begin to fathom the pain and personal tragedy that Marie has had to deal with. And it’s not up to me to decide whether Marie is straight, lesbian, bisexual, or some other orientation. But if Marie reads this post, I want her to know this:

Marie,

You and Donna had to deal with an overwhelming burden of pain that would have put strain on any relationship, especially one between two young girls who had to weather a long-distance relationship. Death, abuse, rape, a baby that you both loved and then lost — your strength and courage in loving each other through all of that is astounding. Such painful events would cause emotional and psychological trauma for anyone. If you had been a man, you might have still had to break up with Donna anyway. No one can be superhuman forever.

But you should know that loving another woman is not the problem. Loving another woman does not make you broken. You’ve decided that you want to be with a man someday and that you want to live as a straight woman. I don’t know you, and I don’t know the details of your situation. Maybe you will find lasting happiness with a man.

But you should know that if you are still attracted to women, that is OK. You can lead a full, happy, meaningful, moral life as a lesbian or bisexual woman. And if you remain a woman of faith, you can maintain a relationship with God that will only enrich your friendships and relationships with people of any gender and orientation.

If you fall in love with another woman, a woman with whom you could see yourself building a long and happy life, a woman with whom you could see yourself raising children, don’t run away from that because you’re afraid of losing God’s love. Not only does Romans 8 remind us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, but a love that beautiful (even if it’s with someone of your own gender) brings us closer to God.

Whoever you are, Marie, my heart goes out to you.

LGBT History Month: Day 31 Rev. Robert Wood

Day thirty-one of LGBT History Month features the Rev. Robert Wood, who authored the first book in the United States on Christianity and homosexuality.

From his bio at the LGBT History Month website:

“Is it proper for two of the same sex to enter the institution of marriage? To which I must reply, ‘Yes.’ ”

The Reverend Robert Wood authored the first book in the United States on Christianity and homosexuality. He is the first clergyman to picket for gay rights.

Wood was raised in Youngstown, Ohio. He enlisted in the Army and was severely wounded in the invasion of Italy. He was awarded a Purple Heart, two Battle Stars, a Combat Infantry Badge and a Bronze Star. With the help of the G.I. Bill, Wood graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and the Oberlin School of Theology.

In 1951, he was ordained in Vermont in the Congregational Christian denomination. He served on the Board for Homeland Ministries for the United Church of Christ and on the World Ministries Board.

In 1956, he wrote an article titled “Spiritual Exercises” for a gay physique magazine, which featured a photo of him in his clerical collar. After meeting Edward Sagarin, author of the groundbreaking book “The Homosexual in America” (1951), Wood was inspired to write “Christ and the Homosexual” (1960). Wood’s book was the first to call for the Christian faith to welcome homosexuals without repudiating their sexuality.

In 1960, the Mattachine Society and The Prosperos honored Wood with Awards of Merit. Each Fourth of July from 1965 to 1969, Wood picketed in his clerical collar at “Annual Reminders,” which launched the LGBT civil rights movement. He appeared in “Gay Pioneers,” a documentary about the demonstrations. In 2001, the Christian Association at the University of Pennsylvania honored him as a gay pioneer.

Wood retired from the ministry after serving 35 years in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. For 27 years, he lived openly with his partner Hugh Coulter.

A fitting conclusion to our series, as Rev. Wood was a ground breaker in the area we at QPHC are trying to address: the reconciliation of queerness and following Jesus.

LGBT History Month: Day 30 Tom Waddell

Day thirty of LGBT History Month features Tom Waddell, an Olympic athlete.

From his bio at the LGBT History Month website:

“Winning is doing your best.”

Tom Waddell was an Olympic athlete and founder of the international sporting event, the Gay Games.

Born Thomas Flubacher in New Jersey, Waddell’s parents divorced. At 15, he moved in with his neighbors, Gene and Hazel Waddell, who adopted him. Waddell attended Springfield College, where he studied pre-medicine and was a star gymnast and football player. In 1960, he enrolled at New Jersey College of Medicine. In the early 1960’s, he participated in the African-American civil rights demonstrations in Alabama.

In 1966, Wadell joined the Army and served as a medical doctor. Two years later, he competed in the Olympics, placing sixth in the decathlon. Because of a knee injury, he retired from athletics. After the Army, Waddell completed a graduate fellowship at Stanford University.

In the mid-1970’s, Waddell came out to friends and family and began exploring the burgeoning gay scene in San Francisco. After attending a gay bowling competition, he was inspired to organize a gay sporting event. Modeled on the Olympics, he founded the Gay Games, which first took place in 1982 in San Francisco. Originally called the “Gay Olympics,” the U.S. Olympic Committee sued Waddell for the use of the word “Olympics” and the organization was renamed “Gay Games.”

In 1981, Waddell began a relationship with Zohn Artman. That same year, he met lesbian athlete Sara Lewinstein, and they decided to have a child. After their daughter was born, Waddell and Lewinstein married to ensure joint custody.

Waddell experienced the success and international impact of the Gay Games. “Tom wanted to emphasize that gay men were men, not that they were gay,” said Waddell’s biographer. “He didn’t want them to lose their homosexual identity, or hide it; he just didn’t want them to be pigeonholed by it.” In 1987, Waddell died of AIDS-related complications.

LGBT History Month: Day 29 Jon Stryker

Day twenty-nine of LGBT History Month features Jon Stryker, a philanthropist and leading funder of national and international LGBT organizations.

From his bio at the LGBT History Month website:

“It’s about supporting people who are trying to live in peace as openly gay or lesbian or transgender people.”

Jon Stryker is a philanthropist and leading funder of national and international LGBT organizations.

Stryker was raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Kalamazoo College and a master’s degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. He is an heir to the Stryker fortune and a major shareholder in Stryker Corporation, a hospital and surgical equipment manufacturer.

Stryker founded and solely funded the Arcus Foundation, the largest grantmaker for LGBT issues. Established in 2000, the foundation’s mission also includes conservation of the great apes.

In addition to the foundation, Stryker has personally donated more than $247 million to LGBT causes and great ape conservation. He is a founding board member of the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya and Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida. The threatened colobine species Rhinopithecus strykeri was named in his honor.

A registered architect, he is the president of Depot Landmark, which specializes in the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Since 2004, he has been a Global Philanthropists Circle Member. In 2008, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force awarded Stryker the Creating Change Award.

Stryker is divorced with two children. In 2011, he was listed among The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s top 50 donors. The following year, Forbes named him one of the “400 Richest People in America.”

LGBT History Month: Day 28 Billy Strayhorn

Day twenty-eight of LGBT History Month features Billy Strayhorn, a celebrated composer and arranger.

From his bio at the LGBT History Month website:

“If you want something hard enough, it just gets done.”

Billy Strayhorn was a celebrated composer and arranger. Best known for his collaborations with bandleader Duke Ellington, Strayhorn had an important influence on the American jazz movement.

The youngest of five children, Strayhorn spent his early years in Hillsborough, North Carolina. His grandmother, who was active in her church choir, encouraged Strayhorn’s musical interests. In 1924, his mother moved the family to Pittsburgh. At the Pittsburgh Musical Institute, he took piano lessons and studied classical music. Strayhorn’s musical focus shifted when he was introduced to jazz, a genre dominated by innovative and successful black musicians.

In 1937, he began to compose in the jazz style and formed his first jazz group. The following year, he was introduced to Duke Ellington, who took him on as a protégé. Strayhorn worked with Ellington for the next 25 years as a composer, arranger and pianist. He composed the band’s best-known theme song, “Take the A Train.” Although Strayhorn and Ellington collaborated on numerous pieces, Strayhorn remained fairly anonymous and was rarely credited or compensated for his work.

In 1946, he received the Esquire Award for Outstanding Arranger. Ellington and Strayhorn were equally credited on “Drum is a Woman” (1957). In 1965, Strayhorn played his only solo concert to a sold-out theater at the New School in New York City. Some of his best-known compositions are “Chelsea Bridge,” “Day Dream,” “Johnny Come Lately,” “Clementine” and the Ellington Band’s “Lotus Blossom.”

Strayhorn was openly gay. There is speculation that his sexual orientation motivated his decision to avoid the spotlight. He was actively involved in the African-American civil rights movement. For the musical revue “My People” he arranged “King Fought the Battle of ‘Bam,’” dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At 53, Strayhorn died from cancer. Although relatively unknown during his career, his complex arrangements and classical elements have inspired generations of jazz musicians.

LGBT History Month: Day 27 Pierre Seel

Day twenty-seven of LGBT History Month features Pierre Seel, championed the memorial for gay Holocaust victims.

From his bio at the LGBT History Month website:

“I became aware that in spite of all that I had imagined, the true liberation was for other people.”

Pierre Seel was deported for being gay from France to a German concentration camp during World War II. He is known for speaking out about his Holocaust experience.

Seel was born to an affluent Catholic family in northern France, near the German border. In 1939, while in a public garden known for gay cruising, his pocket was picked. Seel reported the theft to police and was placed on a list of homosexuals, even though being gay was legal.

In 1941, during the German occupation, Seel was deported along with other French gays to the Schirmeck-Vorbruck concentration camp. He was tortured, starved and raped. He witnessed his boyfriend mauled to death by German shepherds. On his prison uniform, Seel was required to wear blue fabric that denoted clergymen, prostitutes and homosexuals.

After six months, Seel was removed from the camp and forced to enlist in the German army. After four years, he deserted and surrendered to the Allies, who returned him to France. Unlike others, gays did not receive compensation or acknowledgment from France for their concentration camp hardship.

In 1950, Seel entered into a marriage of convenience and never told his wife of 28 years that he was gay. They had three children.

In 1982, Seel responded to Bishop Leon Elchinger’s anti-gay remarks in a letter published in a French gay magazine. He advocated for France to honor gays persecuted by Nazis. In 1994, his memoir “I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual” was published. Seel’s story was featured in the documentary “Paragraph 175” (2000). In 2003, he received recognition as a victim of the Holocaust by the International Organization for Migration.

Seel spent his last 12 years with his partner, Eric Feliu, in France.

LGBT History Month: Day 26 RuPaul

Day twenty-six of LGBT History Month features RuPaul, the world’s most famous drag queen.

From his bio at the LGBT History Month website:

“With hair, heels, and attitude, honey, I am through the roof.”

RuPaul is one of the world’s most famous drag queens. He is a successful actor, singer and television host.

Born RuPaul Andre Charles in San Diego, California, RuPaul learned about fashion from his mother and three sisters. His parents divorced when he was 7. At 16, he moved to Atlanta to live with his sister and brother-in-law.

In Atlanta, RuPaul studied acting, performed as a bar dancer and sang with a band. He gained national exposure with a cameo role dancing in the video for the B-52s’ “Love Shack.” In 1987, RuPaul moved to New York, where he became a popular entertainer in the Manhattan nightclub scene. He was crowned “Queen of Manhattan 1990.”

In 1993, RuPaul collaborated with Elton John on a remake of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” The following year, RuPaul had his first solo hit single, “Supermodel (You Better Work),” which topped the dance music charts. Three more dance hits followed: “Back to My Roots,” “A Shade Shady” and “House of Love.”

His appearances in “The Brady Bunch Movie” (1995) and Spike Lee’s “Crooklyn” (1995), along with the release of his autobiography “Lettin It All Hang Out” (1996), landed RuPaul a talk show on VH1. He described the “The RuPaul Show” as “the most creatively satisfying, fun-filled working experience I’ve ever had.” That same year, he became a spokesperson for M.A.C Cosmetics, making him the first drag queen supermodel. In six years, RuPaul helped raise over $22 million for the M.A.C AIDS Fund.

RuPaul had a role in “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” (1995). In the late 1990’s, he co-hosted the morning show on WKTU-FM, a New York dance music station. He produced and starred in the film “Starrbooty” (2007), which he adapted into a nightclub act. He is the host and executive producer of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and hosts “RuPaul’s Drag U” on Logo.

In 1999, RuPaul was named Entertainer of The Year at the GLAAD Media Awards. In 2002, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Most Beautiful Transsexuals in the World Association.