Revolution Queer Style Now: Christian College Bans Students’ Gay ‘Zine

“Hello to all students, faculty, administration, staff, alumni and the beloved donors of Harding University. We are the HU Queer Press, and we are presenting our first-ever publication. This zine is a self-published work intended to bring attention to the lives and issues of demoralized minorities. Writing a zine is an act of social liberation.”

– THE STATE OF THE GAY at Harding University

 

In the Open Letter which opens THE STATE OF THE GAY ‘zine, the students calling themselves The HU Queer Press express admonition towards their treatment at Arkansas’s Harding University, such as being “threatened with re-orientation therapy, social isolation, and expulsion.” They recall being told that they are “disgusting sinners who are damned to hell” and “broken individuals and child abusers.”

They plead for acceptance:

“We are here to be a voice for the voiceless who are quietly dying inside the walls of our campus. We want you to know us. We are your friends, co-workers, students, family members, fellow worshipers, professors, athletes and scholars.”

…and they end the open letter with a quote from The Bible…

“I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries for liberation from their harsh oppressors. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come to rescue them.”

-Exodus 3.7-8

… and the ‘zine itself opens with this quote from Bruce Bawer, as published in The Advocate in 1998:

Straight Americans need… an education of the heart and soul. They must understand — to begin with — how it can feel to spend years denying your own deepest truths, to sit silently through classes, meals and church services while people you love toss off remarks that brutalize your soul.”

You can read the whole ‘zine online — and you must.

Assuming, of course, you’re not attempting to access the site from your laptop at Harding University.
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The HU Queer Press woke early on Wednesday to slide physical copies of the ‘zine under doors in every dorm on campus. The Queer Press website garnered 150,000 hits in just a few hours and a press blitz began, hitting local news as well as international spots like The Advocate, Towleroad, Change.org and Jezebel.

From The New Yorker:

We can’t know how or why every L.G.B.T. student at Harding wound up there; we only know that they are there. And the most interesting thing about the zine is that its authors don’t seem to wish that they were elsewhere. Instead of fleeing, they are taking a stand for their right to be treated as humans in the society to which they already belong. Moreover, they are questioning the right of the Church of Christ and Harding to interpret the Bible the way they do.

“We had allies in every dorm slipping ‘zines under doors,” a representative from the HU Queer Press told Autostraddle on Thursday. “We heard news earlier today that three other sister schools — Oklahoma Christian, David Lipscomb University in Nashville and Abilene Christian University have gotten word of the ‘zine and it’s spread around like wildfire. Students are printing it off and handing it [out] around campus.”

But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns: “Unfortunately, our own campus has not taken a liking to our work.”

By 4 P.M. on Wednesday, Harding University had blocked the website and forbidden physical distribution of the pamphlet. This was their statement:

Harding University is a private Christian university whose mission and policies are rooted in biblical principles. All students are given a copy of the handbook and know about our mission and policies before their first day on campus. The student handbook states that the university holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage and that sexual immorality in any form will result in suspension from the university.

Based on that policy, university administrators felt that having this website available on campus goes against said mission and policies.

“Many students are sending us positive feedback,” the HU Queer Press told us. “but the administrators are not. Dr Burks, the University President… stated that he could not even mention the name of the ‘zine because the word “queer” is so offensive. He was personally offended by what he calls “profane.””

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The ‘zine is split into four sections and split into four sections.

The first section, called “the experience,” contains first-person narratives about growing up gay and Christian. These stories are like yours. What is it like to wait all your life to find out that your stories are just like everyone else’s?

From “How I Realized I Like Girls”:

When I was young, my favorite part of my favorite movie (Disney’s Peter Pan) was when they visited the mermaids because I thought they were so beautiful.”

From “I’m Just Me”:

“I finally understood that I was not this ‘homosexual’ that was being condemned from every pulpit, street corner and living room couch in the Bible Belt. I’m no prostitute and I’ve certainly never tried to rape any angels.”

In “TOXIC TEACHINGS: REFLECTIONS ON THE CURRENT STATE OF ANTI-GAY DOGMA WITHIN THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST AND HARDING,” a gay man shares excerpts from his high school journal and from a current Harding Course Packet (topics of the class include the “developmental roots” of homosexual behavior, such as distant fathers), along with his commentary.

In “Exposure: The Average Life of a Religious Faggot and His Pursuit of Spirits and Sex,” a gay man starts his story at age 8 (“Terminator. That is when I knew I was different, somehow, not quite sure how, but different.”), through the experimentation of his pre-adolescence…

… and continuing through his life story from attempted conversion therapy to contemplating suicide to eventually fleeing to the Middle East, where he transformed his life and accepted his sexuality.

The next three sections are based on the three principles of Harding University: Faith, Learning, Living:


In Faith, students break down the Scripture and discuss various issues with how the Bible is used (improperly) to condemn homosexuality.

Learning “explores the need for LGTBQ people to have supportive friends and supportive safe spaces to exist where they won’t feel threatened.”

Living is this:

On the back cover of THE STATE OF THE GAY, the authors encourage readers to distribute their message by any means necessary:


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“The mood on campus is a frenzy. People are expressing all sorts of thoughts on campus and through social media,” HUQP told us. “We’ve been getting hundreds of emails from all over the country offering their support. Harding university teachers and students have sent many very positive feedback along with alum and randoms.”

It’s these stories and these pledges of support, they say, that have made this experience so rewarding: “Hearing so many more queer stories from Christian campuses brought us all to tears. They were bold and raw and powerful. I’m in awe of how venerability is the key to compassion.”

It’s pretty remarkable what these students have done — it’s a three-tiered attack which harnesses the power of the written word in all its formats and distribution channels.

From Bikini Kill's 'Zine #1, published in the early '90s

They’ve harnessed the power of a revolutionary format of content distribution that’s been spreading controversial messages since the invention of the printing press — from Thomas Paine’s Revolutionary-War-era “Common Sense” pamphlets to the feminist movement’s dissemination of ideas via pamphlet used by groups including the Combahee River Collective and The New York Radical Feminists to the punk ‘zines of the ’70s and ’80s to the riot-grrrl-inspired zine explosion of the ’90s. The latter is most notable for the voice and community it provided for young feminists who felt disenfranchised from modern media. ‘Zines are still booming today and its spirit lives on in cyber-spaces as well. Even we make ‘zines sometimes.

By posting the ‘zine online, the Harding University Queer Press made it accessible to anyone who wants to see it, and by making it easy to print out, they’ve made it accessible to anyone who might not want to see it, but should see it anyhow.

Lastly, they’ve used online media networking to get serious press. It’s this last element that the students feel could ultimately protect them from any formal backlash from the school:

“We are being contacted by several LGBT orgs that have offered us a wide range of support from financial to legal. In the chance we did get ousted by Harding, the larger this story gets, the better for our protection. We would be supported by a massive network of queers around the nation.

Which is the power behind a movement: the support network.”


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City and mellowed out in California before returning to Michigan for reasons that are unclear to her now. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

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55 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    you MUST read this. it is awesome and so true. I found it last night and wow. THANK YOU HARDING UNIVERSITY STUDENTS!!!!! The revolution starts here!

  2. Thumb up 0

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    Harding University should have taken a tip from Professor Umbridge.

    The best way to make sure everyone reads it is to ban it.

    What a great magazine.

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      The students should call themselves Dumbledore’s Army, especially if the Harry Potter books are banned at the school.

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        Dubledore’s Army would be such an awesome name. Especially since Dumbledore’s queer too!

        God, I love Harry Potter.

  3. Thumb up 0

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    I cried halfway through this zine, right here:

    “Faith is not about answers or strength. Faith is us on our knees, broken, weak, and full of questions. Like Jacob at Bethel, we must wrestle with God. When we triumph our name becomes Israel.” –Z

    Amen!

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      I started crying at that section too. This whole thing pretty much turned me into an emotional, quivering mass, and I loved it. <3

  4. Thumb up 0

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    Loved it. I grew up in a church, spent a lot of time at youth group thinking I was going to burn in hell, know exactly what some of them are talking about.

    And wow, 23,418 views. Everyone should read this.

  5. Thumb up 0

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    I grew up in the Church of Christ. And to say I felt stifled would be an understatement. I simply left the church. As a gay man, I respect and embrace your bravery.

  6. Thumb up 1

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    A Few things first….

    I’m straight.
    I’m Conservative (mostly)
    I’m a White male (well)over 35, Republican, and Harding Alumni.

    And I ABSOLUTELY Support HUQueerpress with every fiber of my being. There are some things that are wrong with this world, and perhaps underground ‘zines of this nature can help eliminate some of the stereotypes, fear, hatred and bigotry within the larger society.

  7. Thumb up 0

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    I started copying quotes to remind myself of them later. Then I realized I was transcribing the whole thing. It’s a great ‘zine, and hopefully will have a substantial effect.

  8. Thumb up 0

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    these people knew what they were getting into by choosing to go to a conservative christian school and by SIGNING their handbook which clearly states the rules. stop whining or leave.

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      Possibly, there are people in this school who didn’t come out to themselves until after they signed up.
      It is wonderful that there is support for them.

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      I don’t think it’s that simple. There are a lot of reasons people choose a particular university. I know from talking to people who attended religious schools on atheist/agnostic forums, that sometimes ultra-religious parents won’t pay for a kid to attend a secular or even a more reasonable religious school. Or as some have pointed out, maybe they just didn’t realize they were LGBT until they came out. Also, if you look at the zine, a lot of the writers are people who did transfer after coming out, and yet still want to make Harding a better place for the students who are still there.

      Besides, the fact that they have a choice not to attend that school doesn’t change the fact that the school’s policy is wrong and should be challenged. I don’t agree that they should remain silent or transfer. People shouldn’t have to remain silent about their sexual orientation anywhere.

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        You’re so right. I happen to go to a REALLY liberal school, but when I was in the process of choosing said school, I was also in the process of coming out. My parents almost forced me to go to our local (extremely) Christian school, because they were scared for my immortal soul, and convinced that Concordia would make me straight. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

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          Concordia didn’t make me straight either. It just locked me up in an all girls dorm and told me no boys after 10pm. HA.

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        What if students at colleges like HU want to stay? What if they like everything about its culture except its policy on gay students?

        I’m kinda tired of secular queers telling religious ones to give up on their faith and their faith institutions if they are oppressive and disrespectful. There is a certain amount of blaming the person for their own misery: “Well, you chose to stay in the church so it’s no one’s fault but your own”.

        Obviously, these institutions need to change and this zine is perfect evidence of people trying to achieve that. But it would be so much better if non-religious queers could provide a little moral support to those who are fighting this vital fight, rather than abandoning it as a pointless, unwinnable battle.

        Asking someone to choose between their faith/church/religious support network and their sexuality doesn’t work, no matter which side you’re coming from. Maybe these students didn’t know how to choose between going to a college that reflected their faith and one that supported their sexuality. Surely the point is that they shouldn’t have to.

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      I wish I could say that just going to another school was so simple, but it’s not. I currently attend a Catholic Jesuit university, and while it is not nearly as bad as other religious schools, I have had the feeling that I (and my parents’ money) was not wanted at the school.

      Many students choose schools based on their religious affiliation. I chose my university because it had a specific program that I wanted, and no other school around was in a large city and offered said program.

      There are many factors that go into choosing a university, and picking one based on your career choice is the most important, if you ask me. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal with the things you don’t like.

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      How will change ever come unless we raise our voices in the places where we are silenced? As a lesbian AND a christian AND a student who attends a Christian college where these revolutionary conversations are also taking place, I can tell you that I am a part of the community at my school, and happy to be there. I am more than my sexual identity, but I am also proud of it. I will not be silenced nor chased away. I, and other queer Christians, have the unique opportunity to stand in the gap between worlds that are wrongly called mutually exclusive and work for justice, truth, and reconciliation.

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      also if you read the stories — most of these kids came to HU in the closet, probably still believing that they could be “cured,” maybe even with HU’s help. Once there they realized they couldn’t be, and also developed a community and a certainty of who they were.

      Also parents are often more involved in the process of college selection than kids are, and “I might be gay” probably isn’t something you can tell your parents when selecting a school.

  9. Thumb up 0

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    yeah, this doesn’t surprise me. I was facebooking with a guy who was attending a seminary. Certain websites were blocked but the college for the “benefit” of their students. It happens.

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      I just wanted to point out to your comment, though, that not all seminaries or religious schools are anti-gay or would censor “harmful” materials. It’s sad that that is still the case so many places, but it’s not the case everywhere.

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    my dad and two of my cousins (and their wives) went to harding. another cousin went to david lipscomb. i went to the church of christ regularly until i was ten or eleven. i am SO, SO PROUD of the creators/distributors of this zine. so much love.

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    I think it’s so funny that in the comments to some of the posts I’ve seen, Harding students are other sympathizers are like “But their polices are clear! They shouldn’t be surprised!”

    Yeah, but they’re BAD, discriminatory policies! HU Queer Press doesn’t care if those are the “rules.” They’re doing this because those “rules’ need to change.

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    I love these kids. And their detractors have been showing up on Queerty in trolling DROVES. So beware.

    I really hope doing this rocks the boat enough to change some of Harding’s ridiculous policies.

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    One the one hand:
    I do not believe in any gods or religions, I think the teachings of Christianity (and, to some degree or another, every religion I’ve encountered) are fundamentally unethical, and I think the prejudicial treatment these students receive is the inevitable consequence of that immoral foundation.

    On the other hand:
    These people have come to totally different conclusions, and what they are doing means something to them. I respect (what I think is?) the sentiment behind what they are doing, even if, according to my perception, it is wildly misguided.

    I don’t know if these two concepts will ever mix together and yield some meaning, but there they are.

  14. Thumb up 0

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    OK, I just read a good chunk of the Harding University Student Handbook, and I have come to a completely clear conclusion about this. Don’t go to Harding University.

  15. Thumb up 0

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    Visit the link on my name.

    Navy Software (Tor Project) will help you to bypass censorship and firewalls.

    Spread the word… Kill censorship.

  16. Thumb up 0

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    my best friend goes to Harding University.
    When I came out to her, I expected evangelism, etc [even though i knew she’d still love me.]
    in the end, she said she can’t condone it. but, she’s happy that i’m happy and that’s what matters.
    I hope more of the Harding students respond like her. I know a few of her friends and I am always amazed at how they react to me. I am proud of her and these zine creators.

  17. Thumb up 0

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    Similar hostility faces gay people at Pepperdine, Baylor, Westboro Baptist church, BYU, etc. All I can try to do is communicate:

    Dear Mr. Benton, et al

    I haven’t gotten a response from Lou Cozolino. Is he OK? Is he on vacation or teaching abroad? He is a kind and thoughtful person and I’m sure that he would normally reply to a note, if for no other reason, to say “Hi.”

    thanks
    jerry lewis

    ————————————————————
    Dear Lou Cozolino,

    I appreciate what I read in the Huffington Post regarding your opinion about sex and mental disorders. “Hypersexuality,” or whatever you want to call too much of the wrong kind of sex behavior, of course pertains to gay or straight orientations.

    As you must know, your school has seriously hurt the cause of monogamy and commitment through marriage for gay people, exacerbating the difficulties in adjustment for gay individuals. By sending lawyers to promote & defend prop 8 and to make hurtful propogandistic commercials wherein the gay person is out to “get” or recruit, or harm children, Pepperdine fuels suicides to this day by legitimizing all forms of hate & discrimination. And before you too give me the schpiel (I like to think it’s a Yiddish word) that Pepperdine tried not to be involved in prop 8 & that legal threats ensued, remember that neither you or I have access to any such documentation, and really, I just think the story professors got to doll out were misleading and platitudinous (possibly a neologism there).

    Haven’t you been able to influence the brutish religious climate there regarding this one issue? Frankly, I’m dissapointed to learn that you still work there. In your class you had stated that you disagreed with the administration’s legal prohibition against having a GSA on campus, and with all that’s transpired, it pains me to know how you must continually compromise your values or psychically defend against the fact that you contribute to this continuous harming of gay folks, by your work frequently patholigizing sex or diversity.

    In fact, long ago now, when I had suggested having a hug-in (not even a kiss-in or anything controversial or untoward) for just one gay couple on campus to your boss Mr. Benton, he flipped out and called me manic, which taken in context with your view today in the Huff Post, suggests that the administration there is contented with using your ideas about bipolar disorder to globally pigeonhole all gays. Calling people crazy willy-nillly, especially when it’s done by people of authority seems to me to be the “sin” and can lead to havoc and destruction. When did it become OK to you to work for religious bullys?

    When I worked at Catholic Charities my boss/supervisor, Dr. Beverly Frank, related to me how the administration at Pepperdine forced her to sign off for practicum credit even though the female student, whose parents had threatened to sue the school, had no, zero, client contact hours. To her credit, Dr. Frank vowed never to work there again. Your employer can sue me for revealing this now, but Tinnie Taylor, Ms. Weber, et. al. should know how lonely the courtroom witness stand is for those who prevaricate.

    When I took your class you struck me as kind of gay; The impression I got was that you had had an intimate or homosexual relationship in the past, althhough you got married to a gal. My sexuality radar is failrly accurate–& if you’ve read @ gaydar in studies, the studies on radar show people are on average good at this–me, just invite me as the jugmental fellow on Jay Leno. Also, by the way you related your treatment with some neighhbor’s kids in applying physical soothing (sorry the story gets short thrift here due to time constraints) and your declining to give grades for the students in your class, and your drawing a shopping cart to explain your dread of poverty, suggested to me that the issues that brought you to psychology had been a narcisstic tendency, along with stubborn boundary issues. I would go further now, having read a book of yours, and armed with your commitment to the physiology, that you’re dramically committed to finding cures for cases that are talk therapy failures, particuarily when the failure is in your office. How’m I doing?

    Dr. Barbara Ingram came to psychology to find out what the hell had happened to her. Due to childhood abuse, her uncle or father figure repeatedly threatening to burn her with a cigar, which terrified her, and the ugly treatment I think a lot of Jewish families give to girls in neglect and cruel jokes, led her to feel bad, and made her abusive. I’ve seen her fly into a momentary rage in practicum, apologizing one minute later, and I’ve seen how she hurt an male India student’s feelings so bad with teasing during group, cruel jokes so hurtful that he left the psy program. She’s got a serious sadistic streak, which, me being gay and all, means that I like her….gay men often like the Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Golden girls of the world, and It was a grave sacrifice for me to lose her friendship because she wanted to defend Pepperduine’s indefensible policies. Since I warned Weber and Ingram of the bullying of gay youth two years ago, at least 6 teens have died by suicide due to mistreatment of the type Pepperdine refuses to make any changes about.

    I could go on, and on. While the humanity of teachers is vital in this process of training therapists, so too is the teaching environment and the humanity of the students–serious shortcomings exist in these areas there where you serve. I’ve gone to and worked at community colleges that were more rigorous and less nutty.

    In the coming weeks and months Pepperdine as an institution will no doubt continue to try and discredit me & activists, in the main it seems by labeling me mentallly ill one way or another. I hope you find enough integrity to not partake, or to get used in this discriminatory and pursecutorial defense of the the school’s administration, who for the most part are concerned more with survival, profit, and reputation than they are about doing right by others, and especially we lgbt people.

    take care,
    your student
    jerry lewis

  18. Thumb up 0

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    When AS was down and I was reading the Guardian online for something to do, I came across this.

    I was raised Catholic, and even though I have done reading into some queer-Christian things before, this is the best I’ve ever read. They sound like such wonderful, intelligent people. They get their ideas across so clearly and with just the right amount of aggression. The sections on the Bible were absolutely eye-opening.

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    That was an awesome zine. So much honesty, so brave, so RIGHT! Go those kids.

    One thing that’s been driving me nuts – “lifestyle” and “sexual preference”. My lifestyle’s not any different than anyone else’s lifestyle, thanks, and straight women don’t describe their desire for men as a preference. This isn’t my bloody choice, and it’s not my bloody lifestyle, I was BORN THIS WAY and it’s just fine, thanks!

  20. Thumb up 0

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    This article is both super informative and really well-written. I’ll be spending the next little bit reading this ‘zine.

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    I would like someone to show me in scripture where homosexuality is mentioned in a positive light. Since it has been referred to as sin in both the old and new testament, I don’t think anyone will be able to. The argument is often presented that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. False. He spoke of sexual immorality which includes EVERYTHING. Having sex before marriage, lustful thoughts, and homosexuality are all viewed as sin. Also, this article has false information. I attend one of the sister schools mentioned above and no one has been passing out this literature nor regarding this in a positive light.

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    God Bless the students of the HU Queer Press…Group Hug and Many Kisses…XXXXXXXXX…

    The article “How I Knew I liked Girls” made me smile….I too thought the mermaids in Peter Pan were strikingly beautiful……

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    It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about your “sexual orientation”. The only thing that matters is what God thinks. He rewards and punishes. He has explained exactly the way He feels about it in Gen. 10. Read it carefully. It will be one of the books God opens at the judgment to decide your fate. Only you must give account for what you do, and only God makes the decision. But He has not left us in the dark about it. He has made it perfectly clear that He hates homosexuality. Matt. 19:11, some have made themselves eunichs for the kingdom of heaven.

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      Your veiws and your manner of spreading them are perhaps not conducive here.
      I do not have anything against you, simply your manner of presentation: the act of posting anti-gay, biblical propaganda on a blog dedicated to openess and lesbian lifestyles. You will not get many (if any) people to listen to you here.
      Consider it.

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    I’m amazed at the sheer writing talent of these kids. Nothing I wrote at that age was anywhere near as good. Nothing I write now is anywhere near as good.

    Incidentally, the University was completely dishonest in justifying its ban by saying that “sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage”. The zine is full of young men and women with well-thought-out Christian sexual ethics, talking mostly about their feelings now but also looking forward to sex in their own permanent relationships – their marriages, in other words. Dismissing them with “outside the context of marriage” is bearing false witness.

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