It’s Hard Out Here For Out Gay Students At Messiah College

As the academic and religious communities are slowly coming to realize, the demographics of kids who choose to attend religious universities is slightly more diverse than just kids who really like playing worship songs on guitar and not doing anything besides holding hands before marriage. For instance, some of them are gay? Some of them are upset that their schools aren’t more open to discussing difference. Some of them are being supported by alumni! Some of them have made zines!

Some of them have to transfer because their schools are a dangerous and destructive place to be.

Isaiah Thomas has been open about being gay his entire freshman year at Messiah College, and also open about wanting to work to make the campus a safer and more inclusive space. During his time there, he was secretary of the multicultural council, a member of the black student union and by invitation, vice president of the Middle Eastern Student Association. In return, Messiah College has been pretty open about not wanting Isaiah to be there, or at least not wanting him to feel like a part of the community or even safe while he was paying thousands upon thousands of dollars in tuition.

According toPennLive, the student has been through hell at the Christian College — from having his wallet, room key and student ID stolen just a month after school started to having a professor call him “an abomination” in class, to receiving a death threat on his Facebook page.

What actions has the school taken in response to this? Well, as you may have gathered given that one of the instigators in the case was a professor, not that much. Although Messiah assures media sources that it’s looked into the issue, any action taken seems to have been pretty low-profile.

“These are institutional issues and protocol we just can’t talk about them, but I can say we followed through with them,” commented Messiah College Provost Randy Basinger.

And it’s not as if Thomas didn’t make the school administration aware of the problem:

Thomas said he took the threats to the college administration – Messiah Provost, Dr. Randal Basinger said, “Any harassment we take seriously.” College officials can’t release whether any students involved were disciplined.

Thomas will transfer to Harrisburg Area Community College – as he says, “It’s not worth it – I could pay half as much somewhere else and it be more accepting,” It seems pretty clear from this vantage point that the loss is Messiah’s. The school argues that its behavior is explained by its Covenant, a code of conduct which decrees that students will not partake in “such sinful practices as drunkenness, stealing, dishonesty, profanity, occult practices, sexual intercourse outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, and sexually exploitive or abusive behaviors.” Thomas says that its interpretation of “homosexual behavior” tends to be self-serving; the board defines this rule on a case-by-case basis. “If the board deems it homosexual behavior than that is what it is, how can it be a rule, if it is case by case, that doesn’t make sense to me.”

Thomas was apparently an excellent student, and one clearly committed to improving and participating in his community. Aside from his impressive extracurricular work, he worked hard to create a dialogue around the school’s Covenant and see if there couldn’t be space for a gay student with strong faith, but he says that teachers defended the Covenant as written at every turn. Worse, the school is refusing to release any of its findings after investigating Thomas’s claims about his treatment, despite what they describe as “very strict” anti-harassment policies.

In the end, there’s no arguing with Thomas’s logic; he can pay half as much to go to a school where, hopefully, he can live without death threats or warnings about hellfire from the faculty. Why would he ever stay? And for Messiah’s part – why would they ever give up a bright, courageous, talented, and committed student who wants to belong to and grow in their community? What are they willing to sacrifice to maintain a policy of discrimination? Apparently, at least one brave and commendable student.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

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  1. I think if you’re a Christian, whatever you think about homosexuality you should be able to agree that harassment is wrong. You should be able to agree that DEATH THREATS are definitely very wrong. The fact that Messiah College, with its supposedly “strict” anti-harassment policy, can’t agree that even if Isaiah supposedly violated their policy on homosexuality he shouldn’t receive death threats for it…the mind just boggles.

  2. Im Christian and gay, so I understand the pain. Best advice, don’t even think about going to Christian colleges if you’re gay. :(

    • I went to a Christian college and everyone there was really accepting. I also wasn’t even a Christian. My alma mater even made an “It Gets Better” video. I think it’s just hard to find the right place to go… and, honestly, I understand why the search may not even be worth it.

      I just wish more schools actually followed in Christ’s footsteps instead of just going through the motions and bragging about doing so. :(

  3. I went to Messiah’s field hockey camps as a kid/drove past it twice a day on my work commute for a long time, ergo: right in my back yard. And the really very sad thing is that Messiah is considered extremely liberal for a Christian school. They have a long standing tradition of being pacifists and generally liberal for a Christian school policies. And even given that, their track record on gay issues is appalling. The director of Harrisburg’s LGBT center is an alum and he told our local paper that Messiah will not list his work info in their alumni magazines.

    • I am the person from the local LGBT center whose work information won’t be published in the alumni/parent magazine.

      Part of the difficulty in that experience has been that my value for social justice and my commitment to critical thinking and authentic dialogue largely come from my experience at Messiah. I was a conservative youth group kid who had my whole world opened up during my education there, both inside and outside the classroom. Because of those experiences, I think about Messiah in a way that leads me to be sure that I would not choose to attend there again given the option, and certainly that I cannot recommend it to any of the LGBTQ youth I work with.

      Messiah truly is an institution where students can bring a very narrow view of the world and have it be expanded in incredible ways. That’s exactly why it’s so hard to swallow cases like this that happen to Isaiah, and countless others that go untold by closeted students: those of us who have survived know that Messiah has the tools to better. It’s part of what makes some of us alumni even angrier than if this were to happen at a place that had a track record of being more openly and verbally homophobic.

      Messiah knows the right language and knows about the community resources to help in its support for LGBTQ students on an institutional level (not just leaving it up to students to find various accepting faculty members on their own.) I am hopeful that the time will come when the language of “homosexual behavior” will be removed from the Community Covenant and the college will take very real steps to move forward.

      There will be an online petition launched soon that some of us have been working on recently, similar to that of OneWheaton. I hope that you all will help to spread the word and help us get very many alumni to sign!

  4. Oof, this is so sad–and, as Erda said, pretty un-Christian.
    People like this (who seem to run all of the Christian colleges) really piss off the nice Christians who want everyone to be happy.

    Thanks for reporting on this, Rachel.

  5. As a lesbian who is also a Christian this makes me really sad, but it also doesn’t surprise me. I had several friends who went to Christian colleges after high school and they all wanted me to come along. This was before I came out, so I couldn’t really tell them why I didn’t want to go. I’m glad I didn’t give in and go where my former friends are. Heh.

  6. I played against Messiah in college (they were in our conference). They all had bible verses written on their sneakers and prayed at center court after every game (even away games, which upset me). I’m not judging their right to freedom of religion, and I have a lot of Christian friends, I’m just saying that I am not at ALL surprised to hear this story based on what I know about the school.

    • Yeah, I’ve found that with the Christians I’ve known, the level of preachiness and wearing your religion on your sleeve is positively correlated with the level of hatefulness/fundamentalism in their theology.

      It could have something to do with “amount in which they’ve read and understood the Bible rather than just cherry-picking particular verses,” which is something that fundies tend to lack. Just as Jesus is pretty clear about hate and intolerance being wrong, there’s also a verse (I can’t remember which, sorry!) where he makes pretty clear his disdain for big public displays of piety.

    • Matthew 6:5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”


  7. I don’t understand why a gay person would want to go to a Christian school that rejects them in the first place.

    • That^ was me. And if the group of gay friends I had at school were at all representative, the specific reasons are almost always some combination of these three:

      1. Late bloomers.
      2. Parents will only help pay if it’s a Christian college.
      3. Raised that way – it’s the only sub-culture we know and leaving is just as scary as staying.
      4. Defiant refusal to believe that Christianity and gayness are mutually exclusive, regardless of what the institution says.

  8. How Christ-like of Messiah. They obviously are doing a great job at teaching Christian principles to their students with all the great examples they’re setting.

  9. I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus or the Trinity or any of that stuff, and I’m undecided on the prospect of God.

    Regardless, I am coming to find that I am much more “Christian” than so many people who claim the label, as I seem to follow Christ’s actual teachings better than they do.


  10. I attended Messiah College for four years, and came out during my senior year. In the course of my time there, I had some excellent professors who helped me to reconcile my sexual orientation with my faith. The theology courses I took were instrumental in my coming out.

    Several aspects of the community covenant, including the bit prohibiting “homosexual behavior”, were widely considered antiquated and merely kept in place to appease the schools’ more conservative financial backers. (At least that was the understanding I had.)

    Accepted by the majority of students, neither I, nor any other queer students that I knew of, experienced the harassment that Isaiah endured. In fact I found it a loving environment, which allowed me to grow into myself.

    So with that said, I am disgusted by Isaiah’s story and the treatment that he experienced at the hands of “Christians.” Messiah is focused on a call to loving community, and so I am deeply troubled/perplexed/enraged by this.

    • From the perspective of a current Messiah student, who didn’t personally know Isaiah but frequently saw him around campus and knew others who interacted with him, the dislike of him on campus, which I firmly believe is being over exageratted as a publicity stunt, was not fully connected to his homosexuality. I believe his huge ego, and demand to be front and center of everything he participated in, as well as his loud, boisterous personality may have been the main reason for the possible dislike among certain groups around campus. Again, I didn’t know Isaiah personally, but I have also heard he isn’t the “A”, perfect student the news is cracking him up to be. This is an attention ploy, and the media fell for it.

      • It’s odd to me how many stories/anonymous Internet comments like this come out when stories like this break. I mean, *every* person whose story makes it to the media can’t have a ginormous ego, right?

  11. I’m conflicted about this. On the one hand the way Isiah has been treated is appalling but on the other it is a Christian school. It is their belief, however misguided, that being gay is wrong. I’m guessing, (I don’t know because I don’t live in a country that has Christian universities so I don’t understand how they work), that it is a private institution, so if you go there you have to accept their rules, whether about not being (openly) gay or not having sex before marriage or whatever.
    I went to a Catholic high school (not by choice) and even though I am an atheist I accepted that I had to follow their rules by participating in religious instruction, going to church, being quiet about the fact I was a radical pro choice, atheist etc. I don’t condone the actions of Messiah College but I think that if you have freedom of religion then this means they are entitled to their belief that all us gays will burn in hellfire.

    • Lines definitely blur with these situations. I think that since he is a person of Christian faith he and others have a right to challenge doctrine and the policies created as a result of doctrine. This reminds me of the students at Harding University. Those students were challenging the school’s policies based on the idea that the school’s interpretation of homosexuality was wrong by Christian standards, not just society’s standards.

      • Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think that everyone has the right to, and should, question and challenge things they disagree with. I thought what the Harding students did was brave and amazing but I guess what I was trying to say was that if you want to go to a Christian school you either have to accept their rules or break them and risk the punishment. Like I say, I am conflicted about this. I don’t agree with the school’s policies but I think they have the right to have those policies as a private religious institution, if that makes sense.

        • The trouble with that is I’m sure personal attacks against you by a professor in class and death threats on FaceBook are not supposed to be part of the standard punishment. These actions were definitely inappropriate behaviour and almost certainly, in the case of the death threat, illegal. Nobody should have to tolerate that, and the university should be absolutely transparent in addressing these issues. In not being open, they are implicitly (and publicly) supporting the bullies in their midst.

          Really, it shouldn’t matter what Isaiah did. E.g. say he had been caught stealing, would it be OK for him to be castigated for it in insulting and humiliating terms in front of the class, or would it be more appropriate for it to be a private, properly constituted disciplinary session? Similarly, if he had been caught stealing, would it be appropriate for someone *who was not even the person he stole from* to issue death threats on FaceBook? Clearly not, and, unlike theft, he *did nothing wrong* in any (secular) moral or legal sense. The environment at the University appears to tolerate more humiliating, damaging and potentially dangerous consequences for something which is legal but which they oppose on religious grounds, than for an actual illegal act *which has a victim*!

          I’m not sure how far an institution which offers a service which is open to the general public is entitled to discriminate against an entire group in the States, but I suspect they might be on shaky ground. Would they still be entitled to their opinions and rules if their religious views opposed people of colour? My mum grew up in South Africa, where the Dutch Reform Church preached that people of colour were lesser beings (they only took back and apologised for this view in the mid-1980s). Did their right to religious freedom make this OK?

          As a person who believes strongly that people are entitled to their views, this is an issue I’ve struggled with for years. The conclusion I’ve come to is that people are entitled to discriminatory views *only* if they do not disseminate them, or support and justify discriminatory behaviour by other people. Because that counts as hate-mongering.

          • I was speaking more generally about the recent controversies around prohibitions on homosexual behaviour or the stopping of students from having LGBTQ groups at Christian shcools. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. Like I said Isaiah has been treated appallingly. It doesn’t say whether the death threat on facebook was from a someone who taught or went to the school, if so they should obviously be punished. Any illegal activity should be punished.

            Are Christian schools open to all of the public? I don’t know how they work. When I went to a Catholic high school you had to be a Catholic (be baptised, have a preference card from your local priest etc) to go there. That could be said to be discriminatory against an entire group (non-Catholics) but it is legally allowed because they were a private institution. Private institutions often discriminate against entire groups of people and it is perfectly legal.

            As far as I’m concerned the issue isn’t about a moral judgment on what is ok or not. I don’t think it is morally right that a lot of Christians condemn homosexuality. I’m gay and it offends me, but I recognise that freedom of religion allows people that belief. In the same way freedom of religion and speech means that people are allowed to voice racist opinions like the Dutch Reform Church did. Am I disgusted by what they did? Of course, but on the other hand you cannot allow freedoms and then decide that certain groups aren’t allowed to utilise them because in doing so they cause offense to other people. Do you think that there should be a law against people voicing any offensive opinions?

            You may be right but when you live in a system that prioritises personal freedoms, such as freedom of speech and religion, over almost everything, people who have discriminatory views are allowed to disseminate them.
            I don’t know the right answer to this. I have thought a lot about it and I still feel conflicted.

          • Yes, in my reply I totally overlooked you saying that Isiah’s treatment was appalling: I apologise for that.

            Honestly, to me causing offense is not the problem; it is about causing serious physical or mental harm, and about restricting people’s potential, all out of sheer prejudice.

            I think the entrance requirements for religious schools vary from country to country: my Catholic primary school in Zimbabwe also accepted kids of other religions (mostly Muslim) tho Catholics were in a majority, but at my Catholic school in the UK, you had to be Catholic to attend. I suppose that is ‘positive’ discrimination, in that they are discriminating *in favour of* Catholics, rather than *against* other religions. But what if you are Catholic and gay? Should they be entitled to discriminate *against* as well as *for*? IMO, no.

            To me, there is a problem with free speech when it leads to discrimination *against* or victimisation, even if the person speaking is not directly involved in any victimisation. When people’s right to free speech results in other people thinking it is OK to beat up, ‘correctively rape’ and/or murder another person, then it is definitely no longer OK, IMO.

            The trouble is that people don’t always recognise the power that their views have over others. In the UK, there was recently a case of a schoolgirl (I think she was 18) being convicted of murdering a gay man by kicking him to death (she was only wearing ballet pumps). I’m sure her family / school / friends are appalled, and yet something, somewhere gave her the idea that it was OK to beat up gay people, and she is imprisoned as a result. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be her parent, to know that your daughter has done this, and then to wonder whether you could have prevented this happening, both to save a life and to save her future.

            Similarly, my mum, despite being incredibly intelligent, never learned Mathematics at school, only Arithmetic. They only taught Maths in the white schools, because, thanks in great part to the Dutch Reform Church, they thought that only white people were smart enough to learn it. Should the people who made those rules have had the power to affect children’s lives and futures so greatly when they based their judgement on personal prejudice? I know women who, despite having the skills and qualifications, had school teachers try to persuade them not to study Maths or Sciences at higher levels, because they were men’s subjects. In some cases, they were talked out of their choice of subject and regretted it years later.

            I think that it is almost impossible to overstate the dangers of permitting the kind of free speech which permits or encourages discrimination *against* any particular group.

            I’m probably wandering way off point here – clearly, I am deeply personally invested in this issue – but I hold to my opinion that certain kinds of free speech are dangerous and damaging to other people, and that this damage (or potential damage) should be carefully weighed against any ‘right’ to free speech or to discriminate *against*. IMO, none of us has the right to rob a person of their future, either by harming them ourselves or by driving them to suicide, or by disseminating ideas that could lead to another person doing so and risking their entire future into the bargain.

            When it comes to college or university-age students, I think it is reasonable to have rules about what will and will not be permitted *on school premises* but not about what students do in their personal lives off-campus. Is there any point in this university specifically mentioning homosexual activity when they have already banned pre-marital sex? Not really. Unless they are likely to have married students, it is a non-issue, and if they do not discriminate against straight married couples, then they shouldn’t discriminate against gay married couples either. Now they *could* reasonably, I think, restrict it to couples married in their preferred religious tradition only, which would probably automatically exclude same-sex couples, but then they would have to apply the rule equally to straight people.

          • I don’t think they should be able to discriminate against gay people in the sense of barring them from attending (which I am not sure they do?) but I think they are within their rights to have a rule prohibiting homosexual behaviour. I am not saying such a rule is right, ethically, but it is legal and I am not sure that there should be a law preventing it.

            I can’t stress enough there is a difference between discrimination in public institutions and private ones. A publicly or partly publicly funded school should not be allowed to discriminate and are legally prohibited from doing so anyway. That isn’t the issue. I live in the patriarchy too. I have had people try and dissuade me from things or assume I am too stupid to do things because I am female. It is not right but I don’t think a law change would prevent it. You cannot make a law that prevents peoples’ homophobic, sexist or racist beliefs. If I turn on the tv I am subjected to blatant sexism. Is it pschologically harming? Yes. Two and Half Men promotes mysoginistic attitudes and encourages discrimination against women but should it be banned?

            While that case is deeply unsettling, it is impossible to pinpoint the something somewhere which lead her to believe that beating up a gay man was ok. Did she know that violently murdering someone was a crime? Yes. Did that prevent her doing it? No. What makes you sure that if it was illegal to say homophobic things that that would mean she wouldn’t have murdered this man? What she did was horrific and reading the news story made me feel physically ill. The group that did it had been drinking. Maybe if they weren’t drunk they wouldn’t have done it. Should we ban drinking?

            I am reminded of France banning the wearing of the burqa in public, recently, because it is seen as oppressive to women. I completely disagree with that. I do not think you can dictate how other people choose to dress whether because of their religion or any other reason. Some feminists would claim high heels are oppressive to women but I doubt they will create a law banning those.

            There are actually laws against encouraging other people to commit crimes and laws against hate speech that incites violence already, so harming someone, driving them to suicide or inciting someone else to do so is illegal.

            The law does not successfully prevent this happening. I am not sure that limiting free speech would be any more successful in preventing it. Do you think that people should not be allowed to talk about their homophobic beliefs in their own home? Amongst their family and friends? In private spaces? I do not see how you can prevent those things happening without moving dangerously close to a dictatorship.

          • I went to a private Christian liberal arts college. The way most of them work is that anyone can apply, but there are application questions directly related to your “testimony of faith,” which will affect your chance of acceptance. There is also usually some statement of faith that students must sign to be allowed to enroll in courses. That still doesn’t mean that self-identifying non-Christians don’t attend. I knew several.

            The freedom of religion point is aptly taken, but I think the problem for quite a few of the gay students on Christian campuses is that the self-realization of their sexuality came during their time in college, not before. So it isn’t so much a conscious decision to enroll in an institution with which they don’t agree as it is a decision to stay in a place where they’ve already settled into a campus community. It’s a hard position to be in – loving your friends, professors, and courses, but being told from the pulpit in chapel that your sexuality is a tragic example of the fall of humanity. It’s psychologically damaging – to which the overbooked campus counseling centers can attest.

            I guess what I mean is, I’m conflicted too. I’m very much concerned with the emotional and psychological health of the students who find themselves in this position because I was one of them. I wish it wasn’t a question of religious rights. I wish administrations could be trusted to wield these rights responsibly.

          • Thanks for telling me how they work. I wasn’t sure because where I live I don’t think there are any Christian colleges.

            I am not advocating a ban on people that are gay attending Christian schools. That would be completely unfair, especially for those that do not realise it until they are already at the college. Don’t get me wrong, I feel for the students that are in that situation. I have seen firsthand the psychologically damaging effects that religion can have. It is pschologically damaging being brought up in a household that teaches being gay is wrong, but I’m don’t know that you can prevent people telling their kids that.

            I guess I’m just not sure that you can make people change the religious beliefs they profess in a private institution. Obviously I am looking at this from a completely different angle. I live in a country where this kind of thing is unlikely to be an issue. I am also lucky enough to have pretty much exactly the same legal rights as straight people. Maybe if I lived in America I would feel differently about this. And like I say, I am conflicted because it is not an easy issue to find an answer to.

          • Thanks for this info, Dijmosse; I had no idea how it worked in the States. I really feel for people in this position.

            Maybe I’m naive, but there’s a huge part of me that believes in the innate goodness of people: that if only we could *understand* one another, and empathise, that we wouldn’t do awful, painful things to each other. But the popularity of some dogmas (I won’t say ‘religions’ because it seems to me that the points are cherry-picked from the original) result in people being too fearful for the future of their souls to be able to muster that empathy or compassion, or even to try.

            I’m replying also to Brodie here, as there is no reply function on her post.

            I hope it’s clear that I don’t mean to be confrontational or argumentative, Brodie: I feel passionately about this issue, but I am engaging discursively, and do not mean to attack you or your point of view. I apologise if I have come across as attacking in my posts.

            Like you, I think that France banning the burqa in public was utterly unreasonable, and I opposed it when it was suggested years ago here in the UK, and still find myself defending that point of view from time to time today.

            I take your point about current laws that exist to protect people from victimisation, but I suppose I am thinking more of the dangers of a culture that encourages the belief that some people are ‘lesser’ than others, and can be bullied with impunity (especially dangerous when inhibitions are lowered by alcohol etc). I don’t honestly think that girl set out to kill a gay man. I don’t honestly think Ravi meant for Tyler Clementi to kill himself. Of course they knew what they were doing was ‘wrong’, but they probably didn’t think it was *that* wrong. And I’m sure that if they had anticipated the consequences *to themselves* they would never have done those things.

            This is where freedom of speech can be a problem. A friend of mine had a racist father in law, who simply didn’t restrain his opinions, even in front of her children. She had tried everything she could think of to persuade him to change his opinions, or even just to act differently, but in the end what worked was her saying to him that he couldn’t say those things in front of the kids, because if they repeated them in the playground, they would be unpopular, or maybe even beaten up (she was exaggerating, but it made him stop). I think it’s only when our mainstream culture refuses to accept that a group is ‘less than’ that change is possible.

            Kids who hear discriminatory speech at home can still become adults who don’t discriminate if the culture of their peers and school is fully egalitarian. But what hope can there be of ending discrimination if kids are fully immersed in a culture of bigotry? People have a horrible habit, especially when they feel insecure or ‘less than’ in some way themselves, of turning to kick the next person down in the pecking order, to help them feel better about themselves. So it seems to me that the solution is two-pronged: help build self-esteem and security in all kids, and provide guidance (if necessary also in social penalties, such as shaming) for aggressive or discriminatory behaviour early in life to prevent tragedies later – the bigot’s tragedy as well as the victim’s.

            I’m sure that the civil rights movement in the US wouldn’t have been so successful if they had waited till every white person – and every institution, private or not – was comfortable with black people. I don’t know what the laws are in the US, but I suspect that even private institutions may not (openly) discriminate on the basis of race.

            The reason I disagree that it is reasonable (or should even be legal) to have a specific rule banning homosexual sex in the university, is because I don’t think they would even dream of disallowing sex to those in cross-racial marriages, or to black married couples, or to disabled couples. So how could they justify disallowing sex to same-sex married couples? It seems more reasonable to me to only permit sex within marriage, with the rule being equally applied regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation etc.

            I do understand your point wrt private institutions, but recently in the UK we have had a case of B&B owners being successfully sued because they refused to put a gay couple in a double room (and told them that there were no single rooms available). The reason that the owners could not win the case, despite theirs being a private enterprise, the B&B being their home as well as their business, and claiming it was an issue of conscience, was that they were providing a service to the public, and it is illegal to discriminate on any grounds when you are providing a public service. It comes with the territory: just as a strict Muslim would probably not choose to work in a brewery, or a strict Jain choose to work in a slaughterhouse, so we all have to make hard decisions of conscience when we choose our work. I could never work anywhere there was animal testing, for example, and so I accept that I have chosen to bar myself from that line of work. Similarly, my sister left an extremely well-paid job and returned to education because she could not tolerate the ethics of the company she worked for. We *all* have to make those choices, and I don’t think that any institution that serves the public should be exempt from strict anti-discrimination laws.

            People are entitled to their opinions, of course, and having lived in a totalitarian state where people were afraid to express their opinions about the government, I am very aware of the dangers of excessive restrictions on freedom of speech. But all people have (or should have) a right to feel safe in their homes and in their community. We should not be hounded out of our homes, of our places of work, or of our schools because of our race, orientation, religion or any other discriminatory reason. There’s a difference between sacking somebody (or making it unbearable for them to continue to work and / or learn) in an institution because they are poor workers/unpleasant to work with etc. and sacking that same person for a discriminatory reason. Crimes that are ‘hate crimes’ carry a more stringent sentence than the same act which was not for discriminatory reasons because a ‘hate crime’ is carried out solely because the victim was one of a particular community, and hence implicitly targets the whole community, or any representative thereof, for no better reason than that they are of that community, even if they have caused no offense at all to their attacker. In the same way, I think that minority groups should be protected from discrimination in other areas.

            I think this may be rather incoherent…

          • Megaera, thanks for the reply. It wasn’t incoherent.

            My school had a “community covenant” that disallowed all sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage (regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, as you mentioned – it seemed logical and non-discriminatory). But then it went on to separately disallow any homosexual activity.

            What this meant practically was that heterosexual couples were generally free to express their affection, but gay students could get called into the Dean’s office if it was rumored they had done the same.

            Like Brodie, I support religious freedom and a private institution’s right to have these beliefs.

            Megaera – “Maybe I’m naive, but there’s a huge part of me that believes in the innate goodness of people: that if only we could *understand* one another, and empathise, that we wouldn’t do awful, painful things to each other.”

            I’m the same way. The only conservative Christians I’ve met who’ve changed their opinions about homosexuality and gay rights didn’t do so because of scientific or psychological evidence, sound biblical arguments, or some greater concern for human rights. They all changed because someone they know and love is gay, and that forces them to stop dehumanizing gay people and start really listening. As they try to reconcile the person they see in front of them with what they were taught to believe, they finally come to the self-realization that maybe they were wrong. That’s the power of relationships. And that’s part of why it’s so tragic anytime any gay person is harassed so badly that they have to leave these communities. (If that sounds like I blame Isaiah at all for leaving, I definitely do not.)

  12. It really, really sucks that this happened to him, but I think the best thing he could do is to leave that place. Ducks don’t live in the desert! In the long run, it’s places like Messiah College that are going to be the ones hurting because of behavior like this, as more and more smart, capable, motivated people leave or avoid it in favor of less hateful schools.

  13. He’ll looooove HACC! Their GSA, known as the HACC Allies, is probably the MOST active college GSA in Central PA. Not only has the group established an LGBT scholarship at the school (funded by a well attended annual formal “Gay Gala” and a drag show opened to the community,) they do a lot of outreach with Common Roads, a local group for LGBT youth, and have planned a few very successful “GSA networking dinners” for local college and high school GSAs. Also they attend a lot of LGBT events in the area and are involved with the Harrisburg Pride Fest.

    He’ll have a lot more ways to shine at HACC, and he will definitely be welcomed with open and loving arms. :]

  14. I go to a private Christian university, and this happens a lot for students. There are a handful of people that are out and fighting, but even more that are closeted and terrified. Some individuals I know have been having meetins with the administration in hopes that they will atleast stop the gay bashing and put an end to homophobic slurs. Our real aim is to get a functional LGBTQ group running on campus, but the administration is adamant that they don’t want one. It’s hard to attend a place where you want to grow spiritually, but the school won’t accept one part of you, which is sexuality. It’s degrading and demeaning and a lot of people end up transferring. So note to all queers out there, don’t attend Azusa Pacific University if you want to be a healthy and sound individual.

  15. Honestly, sometime’s people responses to a story confuse me.
    Every time a story surfaces about someone’s mistreatment or abuse it is guaranteed that someone else will pop up with a story of their own at least mentioning the fact that they didn’t receive such abuse at the establishment. I suppose it seems like good backstory but it just undermines his harassment. I don’t care how nice Messiah usually is they treated him wrong and that is that.

    • Also I feel it is not well thought out because one must take all his identities into account. As a black gay man Isaiah may be more susceptible to abuse than anyone who didn’t receive such bad treatment.

    • I had to go and come back and I am now able to place my feelings in one sentence.

      Unless you are also a black gay man who attended Messiah, your experience there is irrelevant to his abuse.

      • Eje: I think your comment may be directed at my response above, and I see your point. It was not my intention to undermine Isaiah’s abuse, but I understand now that that is precisely what I did and I sincerely apologize. My reply was neither appropriate nor relevant to this story, and I hope you will excuse my ignorance. If I could delete it I would. I’m sorry!

  16. God save thej kids who go to conservative christian schools. Where the motto of the schools seems to be :hate thy neighbor as thyself.

    I may be str8, but I’m sure not going to be a bible thumper.

    But if I was gay, I might try it for a year – to make as much trouble as possible, and find the real christians who follow Jesus commandment to LOVE THEY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.

  17. For those who are interested, an alumni group has come together to form this petition and resource:, similar to responses by alumni at Wheaton, Harding, and other Christian colleges.

    Some responses from the college have focused on the care given to Isaiah after he reported bullying and harassment. I find this a troubling response. The big pictures is that (1) Isaiah had these experiences, (2) no one deserves to have these experiences, and (3) the college is not taking steps to make sure that these sorts of experiences do not and cannot happen on campus.

    Please spread the word about our petition! We have had 243 signatures from alumni in 36 hours. Those who are not alumni but want to support can ‘like’ our page on Facebook: Inclusive Alumni.

  18. Please do not condemn all Christians because of the acts of a few, misguided Christians who do not understand how to show others the love of Jesus.

    Also, your story is full of many incorrect statements. From the PennLive article (

    “Thomas said most students have welcomed him.”
    Thomas is described as having a full scholarship.

    And for the President’s response, which has been left out of all cover, despite outlining the steps that were taken in regards to the harassment of Mr. Thomas:

    What happened to Mr. Thomas is unacceptable, but don’t judge all Christians because of this. Many non-Christians have been guilty of the same, and many Christians are very loving, open-minded people. Further, the LBGT community asked not to be judged based on their sexuality, please don’t judge Christians based on beliefs.

  19. As a graduate of Messiah, it is a great school, with great teachers. It is a Christian School with Christian teachings, and Christian Morals. Going to College is a priveledge and not a right. Any Private institution can set up, its beliefs, protocals, and whatever else. He knew he was going to a rather conservative school, and knew that before attending. I disagree with the harrassing, but most attendees of Messiah College, are fairly conservative, and take the Bible very seriously. And since the school takes the Bible seriously, and in both Testaments, clearly state the Homosexuality is a sin, it might not be the best school for him. I am glad that Messiah didn’t bend and compromise and give in as more liberal schools woukd have. I commend the professor for standing up for the gospel and not bending on luke warm theology.

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