OneWheaton: Christian College Alums Unite to Keep Gay Students Sane

Wheaton College, the “Harvard” of Christian colleges, is not exactly the most welcoming environment for gay people. It’s a long-standing institution that fosters political and religious thought, and has a boastful list of prestigious alumni. But Wheaton has also come to face criticism by LGBT advocates from time to time for problems like, say, the Provost having expressed a support for ex-gay therapy (something the school as a whole and his colleagues do not necessarily agree with). From daily Kos:

As a prominent Christian college in the western suburbs of Chicago, Wheaton College has long stood as a bastion of political and theological conservatism.  The school’s alumni include Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, former House speaker Dennis Hastert, current US Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), and other conservative luminaries.  (It’s also worth noting that Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) is a Wheaton College alumnus, and that he’s found a way to integrate his faith and political views that does not require him to ignore biblical teaching on greed, care for the poor, and love of neighbor.)  Billy Graham is perhaps the most famous alumnus of Wheaton College, and the college’s schools of theology, communications, and psychology are housed in the Billy Graham Center.

Until recently, there was no formal organization or office at Wheaton that let LGBTQ students find resources and help if they were struggling with their identities or sexualities. Until recently, there was a relative silence about gay issues and, you guessed it, a matching silence of queer students. But recently, OneWheaton happened.

OneWheaton is an alliance of alumni who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied members of the queer community. Here’s how they describe themselves:

Inspired by the “It Gets Better” campaign and emboldened by similar alumni movements happening at other Christian universities we have come together as a voice of freedom and hope for students who feel their sexuality relegates them to a life of loneliness and isolation. We strongly affirm that it doesn’t. In our post-Wheaton lives, we have traversed the contradictions we once thought irreconcilable, and our sexuality has become an integral part of our broader pursuit of justice, compassion, and love. As people of integrity we affirm the full humanity and dignity of every human being regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

DO THESE PEOPLE NOT ALREADY SOUND GREAT?

Recognizing the difficulties of completing the Wheaton curriculum without a touch of self-loathing, closeted feelings, and nervous breakdowns, OneWheaton came together to reach out to students and take the steps toward creating an accepting and affirming environment for baby gays on Wheaton’s campus.

After a Chapel series on “Sexuality and Wholeness,” OneWheaton reached out to the current students studying at the college. The “Sexuality and Wholeness” speaker, an alum of Wheaton, spoke about the scripture’s teachings related to sacrificing what we “want” and “need” in order to please and receive their gifts in the afterlife. He went on to identify self-denial as a way to receive the glorious love of God, hitting on his own experience. You can watch it here. I’m going to hit the most important lines to give a better glimpse:

“As I think of myself saying ‘no’ to a life of gay partnership […] I feel much of the time that I’m turning my back on what would make me happiest and most fulfilled in my life. […] I feel the ache of being without a partner. “Do you see, Lord,” I am praying, ‘what I have given up to be with you?'”

They started by leaving this letter to students, and get a Kleenex, because this is only an excerpt:

Dear Wheaton Students,

The recent chapel message on Sexuality and Wholeness and surrounding conversations may have left some of you feeling alienated, ashamed and afraid. It can be difficult to see the danger of messages about sexuality that emphasize “God’s compassion for the broken,” but as a group of LGBTQ Wheaton alumni and allies, we’ve seen the devastating effects these words have had on ourselves and our loved ones. Many of us felt trapped and unable to respond honestly to these messages while we were students. We feared rejection from our friends and our college. We know many of you may fear the same and feel alone or depressed.

If you are a student and this is part of your story, your sexual identity is not a tragic sign of the sinful nature of the world. You are not tragic. Your desire for companionship, intimacy and love is not shameful. It is to be affirmed and celebrated just as you are to be affirmed and celebrated. In our post-Wheaton lives, we have traversed the contradictions we once thought irreconcilable. Our sexuality has become an integral part of our broader pursuit of justice, compassion and love. We can no longer allow ourselves or our loved ones to be trapped in environments that perpetuate self-hatred, depression, and alienation. As people of integrity we must affirm the full humanity and dignity of every human being regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

You can read the full version here, and even download it! It’s very well-formatted and beautiful. There is also more information about the campaign there.

The letter was left outside of Chapel and all around campus, in case some queers were struggling to get out of bed that day. It was followed by the signatures of several hundred LGBTQ Alumni and Straight Allies of alumni, and left a message of solidarity that can’t possibly be going over the heads of all the students on campus there at Wheaton.

For a school that prides itself on a commitment to scripture, the OneWheaton campaign stands as having a strong and relatable mission for current students: to not ignore or forget the lessons of the Church, but to reconcile them with a desire to affirm and show love to everyone, as they are also taught. The alumni involved in the campaign comprise 50 years of students at Wheaton – and they surely know enough, combined, to successfully attempt this discussion.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about efforts to make gay kids feel safer and more taken care of on campuses where the administration sends out anti-gay messages. If you are going to/went to college, do/did you see any of this on your own campus? Do you want to? Do you think this will change the environment at Christian colleges for the next generation?


Are you following us on Facebook?

Profile gravatar of Carmen

Carmen is the Straddleverse Director and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 924 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. 0

    I went to a catholic high school/college. I hated it. The students are normal young people and generally not fussed whether you’re gay, straight, whatever. But some staff took it upon themselves to single me out and make me feel like I was “wrong”. Unfortunately me standing up for myself greatly backfired and resulted in six months of me fighting to keep my place at college and trying to keep my grades up when teachers were in some cases purposely marking me down. I went through 9 months of hell before eventually leaving the college. But it has resulted in senior staff becoming aware of the bullying from staff and therefore helped stop it. That makes it all worth while.

  2. 0

    I went to a Christian college where they expelled me for being gay in my freshman year. They informed me that I had less than 6 hours to vacate campus, leaving me homeless and jobless at the age of 19.
    I’m not bitter now, but it took me YEARS to understand that I was not the problem in that situation. I know that some kids are not as fortunate, so I’m extremely happy to see that even some unexpected things are ‘getting better’.

  3. 0

    I went to a Catholic high school and now go to an extremely LGBT-friendly college. I couldn’t stand spending another four years at a place that doesn’t accept me for me. What I noticed was that most of the students were pretty chill about my sexual orientation, but that it was mostly the administration’s fear of losing conservatives’ donations and one bad teacher who were to problem. But when I came out in the middle of religion class after my teacher said some homophobic comment about how being gay is like eating dirt instead of fruit and I said, “My girlfriend and I do not eat dirt!” some people hugged me and I became temporarily if somewhat undeservedly the symbol of badassery amongst the student body. But despite that I didn’t really want to feel discriminated against in college, because it’s not actually very much fun to be told that you’re “intrinsically disordered” all the time.

  4. 0

    Catholic colleges and acceptance/support for LGBTQA students are not mutually exculsive. I am proud to say that I attend a Catholic college that welcomes everyone regardless of sexual orientation. I am an active participant of our straight-gay alliance that has organized many panels and other events that were well recieved on campus, including a memorial service in the fall that was held outside of the chapel where some of the priests said prayers. There are several faculty and staff members who are gay or lesbians and even more allies. We were the first Catholic college to give benefits to same sex couples. I am more comfortable to be open about my sexuality here than I ever was at my homophobic public high school.

  5. 0

    hopefully things wll change, but rarely with religion. Christianity’s history is one of slavery per the bible, hating Jews, and its all about control and money.

    They create people who seem nice on the outside but when you start to threaten their belief system you discover you are dealing with monsters. Gays are just the latest victim, and for some christians, the reformation of the catholic church went backwards to a new dark ages, eg Hitler – a catholic not yet EXcommunicated, dead or alive. The german pope UNexcommunicateing in 2009 a Bishop williamson. He is a holocaust denier kicked out of the church of england.

    Not a chance that I’m going to live in the dark ages. The school will hopefully change, willingly or unwillingly.

    Until then, thanks for the info, my str8 kid just made the decision to seek a non – relgious school.

  6. 0

    Kristen – you are so lucky. the catholic church has ended benefits for lay employee spouses rather then give benefits to gay spouses of lay employees.

    they have ended adoption services for kids, rather then let gays adopt.

    Certainly they are not monolithic, but until the reign of terror of RATZInger is ended, and they stop fighting gay marriage under civil law, they are amongst the worst of the worst, except for some protestant evangelicals.

    OUr whole family has left the church, given that how they treat gay people and deny them human rights under civil law, and call them intrinsically disorded

    making their own contribution to the 9-11 we have every year of the several thousand gay kids who are driven to suicide.

    While they babble about protecting life.

    And while their German pope continues to be the Godfather of Pedophilia, helping to hide endless molestation of children all over the world.

    And UNexcommunicated Bishop Williamson, a church of england bishop kicked out for dernying the holocaust.

    Look at http://www.catholicarrogance.org

  7. 0

    I got chills reading that letter and looking through all the alumni who signed it. I went to a Catholic high school and didn’t even fully understand why I was so set on going to a more liberal public college while most of my friends went off to Catholic colleges. Now I get that I had to spend most of college undoing the repression that high school had taught me.

    Also I feel that people should keep in mind that Christianity is a very huge umbrella covering several religions, and while many Christian denominations and institutions aren’t so cool with the Queer community, some definitely are.

  8. 0

    My little sister is going to Hope College next year, a very conservative, anti-gay college in western Michigan. I was first really mad because she knows I’m bisexual and she claims to be a supporter of gay rights, that this matters so little to her in choosing a college, and I felt betrayed by her.

    But now, I wonder if having someone like her at a place like that is helpful to LGBTQ kids who may feel isolated or alone. She considers herself an ally and expresses support for equal marriage and other forms of equal rights for LGBTQ people. While she doesn’t completely get it – she doesn’t really understand straight privilege or the fact that she has lots of it (and that it’s why she’s able to just brush off anti-gay attitudes from her friends while I can’t) – she is a lot more supportive than the vast majority of evangelicals. I hope she’s able to reach out to people who may be deep in the closet and hurting. Maybe I should tell her about OneWheaton.

    • 0

      I didn’t go to Hope, but once my high school all-girl, half-gay punk band played a house show on campus there. So: I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s still some awesome feminist/queer culture going on there. Honestly, West Michigan is so awash in evangelical craziness that, growing up, I never even though of Hope as *especially* conservative.

  9. 0

    This is exactly why HeartStrong has existed for nearly 15 years. It is the only org in the world with the sole mission of providing outreach and support to GLBT students in religious schools.

    There was another group of Wheaton alumni that attempted to start a group many years ago after a student committed suicide. Here’s hoping that ths group will persevere!

  10. 0

    *fistpump* Yes! See it’s moments like these that make me proud to be a Christian. Go OneWheatons!

    We don’t have ANYTHING here at my college for LGBT resources. Which, i weird because we’re an Art School in San Francisco. Maybe they just think that because we’re in the Queerest City north of West Hollywood we’ll figure it out ourselves?

    • 0

      Yeah, I’m at a music school, and while everyone is very supportive of LGBT rights we don’t really have any specific LGBT resources. People just seem to assume that since we’re in liberal Baltimore with gay bars down the street, homophobia won’t be a problem. Unfortunately, a lot of students, even if they’re living in liberal-land, come from conservative backgrounds and so we still have plenty of closeted people who could probably gain a lot from the services at an LGBT resource center.

  11. 0

    I went to Catholic high school and college…our President was a Monsignor, and priests were members of the faculty lol But surprisingly enough, our Dean of Student Retention was the biggest homo I’d ever met, as was our Director of Campus Life at the time, and one or two other notable faculty members. Also, out of all of the girls on our softball and women’s soccer teams, I’m pretty sure five of them were straight. So I was pretty lucky. Unfortunately I had friends who attended another Catholic university in FL and their own experiences weren’t too happy. They actually just transferred to my school when it got to be too much. I applaud Wheaton for this…it’s truly an indication of how far we are progressing, no matter how frustratingly slow that progress might be.

  12. 0

    I go to Wheaton..when I was handed this letter I seriously almost burst into tears right then and there. That moment was probably the first time that I didn’t feel alone at that school.

    In case anyone’s interested, the President sent us an email responding to OneWheaton:

    “This morning, a group of Wheaton College alumni distributed a letter on campus to announce the formation of OneWheaton, an advocacy group of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) and questioning alumni and allies. According to the group’s website, its intent is to counter “prevailing ideas about homosexuality in the Wheaton community.”

    Wheaton College agrees with OneWheaton’s stated desire to “affirm the full humanity and dignity of every human being, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Our Community Covenant upholds the commitment of every Christian to loving God, and to loving our neighbors as ourselves. We see each member of the human family as created in the image of God himself, and thus each of immeasurable value. This includes our neighbors and alumni who identify as LGBTQ.

    We recognize that the needs of LGBTQ individuals present a particular challenge for institutions like Wheaton. Many have experienced insensitive or callous responses in this community, for which we repent and seek forgiveness. We repudiate and condemn violence and injustice directed toward LGBTQ people.

    We also remain committed to following Christ as faithful disciples, which entails conforming our lives to God’s truth revealed in the Scriptures, and specifically to a biblically-based stance on sexual ethics. In this, we seek to prepare our students to maintain fidelity with the historic stance of the Church on these issues. Our Community Covenant again speaks for the College on this matter:

    We understand that our calling includes . . .[t]he call to pursue holiness in every aspect of our thought and behavior (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 4:7; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15-16)… Scripture condemns… sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography (Matt. 5:27-28), pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman (Rom. 1:21-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31).

    We stand with LGBTQ persons before God as persons created in God’s own image, and also as sinful persons in need of God’s forgiveness and love through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. We carry a burden for our students, faculty, staff and alumni who experience same-sex attraction because of the pain they so often experience, and pray that we can be a community that loves those who identify as LGBTQ. While we recognize that Wheaton’s stance may be unsatisfying to some of our alumni, we remain resolved to respond with truth and grace.”

      • 0

        Hah..that’s great. And I’ve been thinking about joining the facebook group but I’m a bit hesitant since I don’t really know how private groups work. Will my profile show that I’m a member? [insert obligatory “so far in the closet I’m having adventures in Narnia” joke here]

        • 0

          Ha, breaking out the C.S. Lewis jokes. You definitely just upped your credibility. Out of sheer curiosity, does Wheaton’s network let you access Autostraddle? Or do you have to get off campus?

          If you decide to join, it won’t show up on your profile at all. Only other members of the group will know that you’re a part of it. I emailed one [at] onewheaton [dot] com to request an add. The girl who responded sent me a friend request on facebook and then added me to the group. So the only risk you’ll have is adding a member of OneWheaton as a friend for as long as it takes them to let you into the private group.

          • 0

            Awesome, thanks for the info. I’ll definitely email them. And, surprisingly, Wheaton doesn’t block this site. For some reason they feel the need to pointlessly block sites like fmylife, but not a lot of gay ones. *shrug*

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!