Students and alumni of a Massachusetts Christian college are struggling to let the voices of the gay and lesbian students of that school be heard. The Hamilton-Wenham (MA) Chronicle reports on students at Gordon College who are attempting to form a new club at the school that would give GLBT students on campus a place to come together and tell their stories.
The climate at Gordon College began shifting last year as dialogue about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues was brought to the forefront of students, faculty and staff.
The Wenham campus was buzzing upon the visit of Soulforce, a national group that visits Christian colleges to start dialogue about GLBT issues.
According to the Soulforce Web site, the “purpose of Soulforce is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.”
This is what got Green, a heterosexual, first interested in finding a place for the voices of gay students on campus — voices, she said she had never even heard until that year. She entered Gordon College as a freshman, ignorant to the issues of homosexuality. She signed the required life and conduct statement that calls homosexual acts — as well as heterosexual acts before marriage — sinful against God, with full conviction.
As her years at Gordon went on, however, she began thinking about homosexuality differently.
“I have a lot of gay friends on campus,” she said.
She said there have been other initiatives over the years to bring homosexuality to light at Gordon, but have been largely “hush-hush.”
A group at the counseling center recently formed that is completely confidential. Green said this group is more therapeutic, focusing on how to deal with adversity and other issues. Her group would be a public forum for storytelling and getting to know other students.
Soon after Soulforce visited Gordon, a small independent magazine called “If I Told You” circulated around campus. Created by student Diana McLean and two other students, it consisted of 12 anonymous stories from gay and lesbian students that were currently at Gordon or had just graduated.
McLean said she sent out notices asking for people to tell their stories and experiences being gay at Gordon. She did two interviews herself and the book was printed. She initially planned to raise some money and make a few copies; however, word spread and soon she was getting donations from clubs and organizations on campus. With that money, 1,000 copies of “If I Told You” were made and passed out to students.
“It was a pretty cool thing,” she said. “The response was overwhelmingly positive.”
McLean said she helped organize the publication because she was astounded to hear stories from friends about how they were treated because of their sexuality.
“There was not any awareness of this,” she said, adding that when she first arrived at Gordon, it didn’t occur to her that gay students attended the school. “I was completely oblivious of the struggles of these students.”
She decided other students needed to know what she now knows and “go through the same reflective process.”
While there are outlets at Gordon for debate on the subject in an abstract way, such as the school paper, there really wasn’t a place to say, “I am gay and this is how I feel; this is how I am treated; this is my experience.”
McLean said the climate at Gordon has improved since Soulforce and “If I Told You.”
“Discussions are happening that didn’t before,” she said, adding that when she was a freshman, there was a “big detachment” between homosexuality as a concept and as a reality.
“Now there is a big concern to address that there are kids on campus (who are gay),” she said. “Conversations are happening that have a personal quality to it.”
McLean said she wasn’t sure what would happen with the proposed group, but said Gordon should have a continuity to the dialogue and let it continue so incoming freshman will be exposed to it and be thinking about it.
She said she was unsure if the proposed GLBT group was the best next step; however, she said some kind of group could be positive.
“It would be nice if the GLBT students get together and start their own group,” she said.
The Gordon College Student Association turned down the initial proposal turned down the initial proposal on a 7-6 vote.