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 23 Irshad Manji

Day twenty-three of LGBT History Month features Irshad Manji, an award-winning Muslim author, feminist and outspoken advocate for Islamic reform.

From her bio at the LGBT History Month website:

“My journey is about speaking out against injustice, no matter who is offended.”

Irshad Manji is an award-winning Muslim author, feminist and advocate for Islamic reform. The New York Times described her as “Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare.”

Manji was born in Uganda to an Indian father and an Egyptian mother. In 1973, when Asians were deported from Uganda, her family immigrated to Canada as political refugees. She attended public school during the week and the madrasah, an Islamic religious school, on the weekend. At 14, she was expelled from the madrasah for asking too many questions.

In 1990, Manji graduated at the top of her class from the University of British Columbia. She worked as a legislative aide to Parliament and became the speechwriter for the leader of the New Democratic Party. At 24, she wrote editorials on national affairs for the Ottawa Citizen.

In 1998, Manji hosted Citytv’s “QueerTelevision,” the world’s first commercial broadcast exploring the lives of gays and lesbians. The show won a Gemini, Canada’s top broadcasting award. She produced the Emmy-nominated PBS documentary “Faith Without Fear” (2007), which follows her journey to reconcile faith and human rights.

Manji authored “The Trouble with Islam Today” (2004), an international best seller published in more than 30 languages. In its first year, the Arabic translation was downloaded 300,000 times. She wrote “Allah, Liberty, and Love” (2011), her guide to becoming a robust global citizen.

In 2004, Oprah Winfrey awarded Manji the first Chutzpah Award for her “audacity, nerve, boldness and conviction.” In 2007, she was named one of the country’s 50 most powerful gays and lesbians by Out magazine. The Jakarta Post in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, named her one of three Muslim women creating positive change in Islam.

She is the director of New York University’s Moral Courage Project, which develops young leaders to challenge conformity. Manji travels the world speaking about religion, LGBT issues and human rights. Her columns have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, and The Globe and Mail (Toronto). She is a frequent guest on CNN and other television networks.

Our Criticism of Your Bigotry Does Not Count as Oppression

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A straight person or a white person or an able-bodied person or a cisgender person or a man says that gay people or people of color or disabled people or trans* people or women are the true oppressors, because somehow

  • a gay person reacting angrily to homophobia
  • or a person of color reacting angrily to racism
  • or a disabled person reacting angrily to ableism
  • or a trans* person reacting angrily to transphobia
  • or a woman reacting angrily to sexism

is, first of all, a problem, and second of all, a problem that is equal to or greater than homophobia, racism, ableism, transphobia or sexism.

The main complaint of these privileged persons seems to be some variation of “We can’t criticize them without getting in trouble!” or “They’re taking away our freedom of speech.”

The latest iteration I’ve seen is a quote attributed to Voltaire currently circulating on Facebook in the form of meme-style text on a sketch of a giant hand crushing a tiny crowd of tiny people. The quote says, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

I agree with this sentiment, but I was disappointed by the comments on one of these Voltaire quotes. Apparently, some of my fellow PHC family members believe that, according to this standard, women, people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ people “rule over” them.

I sincerely hope that these comments were not meant seriously, though even as a “joke,” they are not funny.

If these commenters are correct, then black lesbians with disabilities should hold more clout in this country, proportionally, than any other demographic.

Of course, that isn’t true. And neither is the implied statement that men or white people or able-bodied people or straight people are not allowed to criticize women, black people, disabled people, and LGBTQ people.

These commenters think that an angry response to oppression counts as actual oppression.

If you make a negative comment about gay people, and someone tells you that you are being hateful or inaccurate or ignorant or oppressive, you aren’t being oppressed. You aren’t being deprived of your freedom of speech. The other party is merely using their freedom of speech to respond to you.

If you are a straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender man, you possess immense privilege. There’s nothing wrong with being straight or white or able-bodied or cisgender or a man, and the vast majority of the world will happily affirm you in your identity as all of these things. But there is something wrong with feeling entitled to your privilege, as if you deserve  special treatment because you are any or all of these identities. And when someone who is not straight or not white or not able-bodied or not cisgender or not a man complains about the inequality in society, you are a jerk if you claim that that person complaining about inequality is the one perpetuating it.

You have the right to squander your freedom of speech on hateful, inaccurate, ignorant, oppressive statements. And we have the right to call you on your bullshit. It’s how free speech works.

Welcome to America.

LGBT History Month: Day 5 Mary Bonauto

Day five of LGBT History Month features Mary Bonauto. Regarded as one of the country’s most powerful lawyers in the marriage equality fight, Bonauto was lead counsel in legalizing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and in the fight to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

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