I’m thrilled to welcome back anti-violence expert Jay Yoder to the Into Account team. While this piece describes instances of threats of violence against queer folks at Goshen College, I think many LGBTQ+ people who experienced Christian schools will recognize the patterns laid out here. If you’d like to know more about Goshen College’s recent apology to one of its former students, please read current student Katie Baer’s op-ed.
– Stephanie Krehbiel, Phd, Executive Director, Into Account
On the dangers of being queer on a Christian Campus
by Jay Yoder, Director of Operations
You deserve an apology
An apology that you arrived, at just 18 years old, to a small Christian school with a toxic theology that told you to burn in hell because of who you are, because of who you wanted to love.
I know, because I deserve that apology too.
We were surrounded every single day by a silent refrain of “You do not *really* belong. You are not worthy of welcome.”
The pain we carry/carried is dismissed
Dismissed by ourselves or by others. Dismissed because we made friends, or had ok grades, or smiled a lot, or had fun, or liked so many other things about our college experience. Or dismissed because “you deserved it” – because “what did you expect going to a Christian college?” Because it’s still our fault – they were just “carrying out God’s will” as they understand it.
We deserve an apology that instead of celebrating us or being in straight up awe of us for surviving – or even thriving – in an environment so hateful to who we are – we are told it means harm wasn’t really done. Our scars don’t make sense. The pain we carry is “frivolous”, “silly”, or “brought on ourselves”.
We deserve an apology for the toxic theology and culture that means the violence we experienced because of our queerness touched such a deep inner narrative that healing is thwarted by our own and others belief that even our pain isn’t worthy.
We were, quite simply, surrounded
We deserve an apology that we woke up every day on a campus surrounded by people we weren’t sure we could trust with our truth. We guarded every word, every glance, every gesture and pronunciation, the way we carried our bodies – lest it betray who we *really* were. We had to wonder whether our friends would still love us, whether our professors would still treat us fairly, whether we’d have anyone to eat with in the cafeteria, whether our school would punish us – if they really knew us.
Some of them want/ed us dead
We deserve an apology that when an LGBTQ+ person had the courage to come out, an anonymous coward took gasoline and a match to their story, posted by a classmate to a campus bulletin board. We, every queer one of us, had to wonder if he wished it was us, burning to a crisp. After this kind of violence we had to walk, breath catching, across our campus, not knowing which classmate/s wanted us dead or gone, noticing every sidelong glance and knowing whisper.
We were threatened with violence and we were scared
We deserve an apology that the day our dorm-mate found out there were queer folks on campus, he took a baseball bat in hand and paced the hallway up and down, pounding, pounding, pounding that bat in his hand cursing the college for allowing in “fucking f*ggots!” A young gay man had to quietly creep to his dorm room door, not even breathing, to gently close the door and turn the lock without a sound, hands shaking. The bat-wielder had no consequences, but when those who hated us lived in our halls, we had to lay our heads down and try to sleep with him just down the hall, hoping his threats were empty. We had to attend classes not knowing how many who thought like him walked the halls of our dorms and class buildings, sat in our cafeteria, taught our classes.
We had to hide
We deserve an apology that the theology and its culture was so unwelcoming and our college was so untrustworthy that who we are felt like a secret shame. If/when we met up with other queer people, we had to lie to our friends about where we were going. Those moments of being able to let down our guards and be our full selves with people like us, were so few and far between – and were tainted by shame because they had to be kept secret for our safety.
Administrators were/are cowards, and they failed us
We deserve an apology that every single time there was a threat or an act of violence against someone queer on our campus (and there were so many) administrators didn’t step up publicly and with moral courage, name with authority the crisis this signaled for the community – (a) dangerous person(s) in the midst of campus, with an impact of deep psychic and spiritual harm and the potential to enact physical and/or sexualized violence against the students in their charge.
They are still failing us
We deserve an apology that those administrators didn’t refuse to rest until that hate was rooted out, through identification of the culprit/s, through holding our pain and fear to be real and valid and warranted, through training and education, through speaking to every queer person ready to tell our story, through asking and asking and asking us what they must do, and through following through with those suggestions – not as an effort to have a shining reputation, but to repair damage, prevent harm, create real welcome and support.
They built this house of violence
We deserve a thousand apologies because they still can’t see, or don’t see, or won’t see that they did these things to us, actively. That they foster/ed a culture where hate and violence thrive below the surface, festering, festering.
I am sorry, and I am proud
So I will share one.
I am sorry. Sorry we went through this. Sorry we weren’t and aren’t held and supported and celebrated and put in charge of the restitution we are owed.
We did not deserve what happened to us. We deserved so much more. They failed us. They allowed unchecked spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical violence against us.
There is no one way any of us should be feeling
If we thrive/d, our thriving does not erase that trauma. If we struggle/d, our struggling is not a weakness or a deficit. Everyone reacts differently. No response outweighs the other or negates the damage or harm.
We are allowed to feel exactly the way we feel about it – whether we want to shake off the memories of that institution like dust from our shoes, dedicate time and energy to holding them to account, forgive and forget, scream from the top of their tallest building that they’re hypocritical jerks and not to trust them – whatever we’re feeling is ok.
They are still wrong – we were then and are now worthy
We are worthy of love and belonging right now, exactly as we are this minute. We are so beautiful, our efforts magnificent, our survival a celebration.
I am sorry. And I am proud of us.