Over my self-titled "Summer of Darkness", some pretty big things happened in the world, and also in my community. I had thoughts about these things, as I nearly always do, but I wasn't exactly in a place to fully express my thoughts on them. Past a couple of incomplete thoughts on Facebook, that is. So I am here to remedy that, because some of them were brought up to me again this week.
I am going to start out with a definitive statement. I love my school. William Jessup has consistently been a place where I could come and feel safe, loved, supported, and encouraged to grow. I lived here on campus for four years. I was deeply involved in campus life, including the Jessup House of Prayer. I may have been one of the only people who loved going to chapel, because there was always something new to learn, even if I didn't always agree with the opinions presented. I always had the opportunity to hash out my faith and my relationship with God, taking it to new levels that I hadn't been aware existed.
In fact, Jessup was one of the main places that I learned how to be friends with people who didn't necessarily have the same opinion as I did. I would debate mightily with some of my closest friends about hot-button issues. The professors consistently encouraged dialogue in class that included heavy disagreement. There was even a whole class dedicated to looking at specific issues in modern culture and determining what your perspective was on them. It required me to push out of my box, consider other people's feelings, and deeply impacted how I've approached coming to my decisions about faith, life, and culture.
All that being said, I now wonder if my experience would have been as positive if I had, say, decided that I was not in fact a straight woman, but a lesbian, or bi, or even that being a guy might suit me better. I'd be lying if I said that all of those thoughts had not crossed my mind at some point during my college years. I've written here before about being a Tomboy, awkward, nerdy, and generally not super feminine. In the years since, I have determined that - at the very least - I am a girl for a reason, and I like guys (more on that in the upcoming post about my summer crisis).
Still, the thought was always there in the back of my mind. What if... What would I have done then? Continued to live in peace and harmony on the extremely conservative Christian campus without any fear? Without worrying that I might get kicked out, or made to change my living arrangements? Or decided that it wasn't worth it to keep paying money to be in a community that actively preached against what I was very deeply feeling?
This summer, a bill came through the California State legislature that tried to address those issues. As anyone who has been even remotely connected to the news knows, there was a significant amount of outcry when North Carolina passed a "bathroom bill" requiring transgender people to use the bathroom consistent with their birth gender. Soon after, a whole other group of people had their outcry moment when Target decided to change their bathroom policies to be inclusive to transgender people. I happened to be in the first group of people, who was incensed that the government still seems to think that legislating their personal views on lifestyle is an appropriate use of their elected power. The really interesting thing about this whole morass of outcry was that both groups of people who were most incensed claimed that they were being discriminated against. Now, I like history. I would like to ask you to consider the amount of times - historically - Christians have been discriminated against, compared to the amount of times Christians have discriminated against others, actively and vocally.
... I'll wait.
This California bill, as I saw it, tried to make sure that the same sort of thing that happened in North Carolina didn't happen in California's many institutions of higher learning. The UC system, the Cal State system, the Community College system, and yes, the various private universities that operate in the state, Christian or no. It contained language that would expand Title IX rights to LGBT+ individuals, in regards to not being discriminated against when it comes to admissions, housing, and participation in athletics programs. It even considered religious institutions, adding a clause where -according to my reading of it - they could choose to opt out of some of the clauses based on their strongly held beliefs.
My little corner of the internet exploded. Suddenly, I was receiving emails from the president of Jessup claiming that they, in fact, were being discriminated against in the language of this bill. To learn more about Jessup's position on this, I actually watched all four videos made to explain why they opposed the bill so heavily. Other religious institutions jumped in. Lots of money was spent to make sure this bill didn't get through the legislature in it's unsatisfactory state. Eventually (spoilers) the bill was changed, and it was counted as a victory for those dedicated to living a holy life, a triumph of righteousness. Discrimination, in their mind, was defeated.
Yet, I still wonder. What does this mean for the LGBT+ students that I know go to this school? They were here when I was a student. There weren't that many, but every student on campus knew who they were. We also knew the various details of their run-ins with campus leadership when they would cross whatever arbitrary line was currently set. Because most students were (at the time) required to live on campus for the first two years of their four-year stint, there were some hurried discussions besides closed doors about how to keep them from straying into sexual sin in our dorms, or anywhere on or off-campus. Yeah. Not even off-campus living arrangements were safe from the rules, especially if you were one of the many - athletes included - who had to sign a separate contract to make sure your life remained pure enough to represent Jessup. Other clauses included not breaking any laws, not drinking at all ever, and of course, keeping yourself "above reproach" in all other areas of life.
I have a couple of issues with this. First off, I am of the opinion that the only people who should be concerned about my sexuality are myself and Jesus, unless I choose to make it someone else's business. I think trying to regulate sexuality has gotten way out of hand, and it is no longer about trying to love people well. I don't think that ANYONE should have to deal with their private life being spread about to a whole school. Whether it's an LGBT+ person who has a run in with Campus Life, or a straight person who got caught with their significant other in a "compromising position". In a small community, some of this is inevitable. Gossip in this community (another thing the Bible says we shouldn't actually do) spreads faster than an STI. That's obviously an issue on many levels, but at the heart of it, I think we need to realize that making judgments/rules that apply to sexuality is inherently impractical, and honestly, is going to be ignored 99% of the time.
Second, I specifically disagree with the fearful eye that the Church as a whole has turned towards transgender people especially, aside from the already rampant fear and hatred towards all LGBT+ people. The stats on rates of bullying, mental health issues caused by trauma, and suicides for trans people are astoundingly high. They are very clearly cast as outcasts in society. Last time I checked, Christ accepted the outcasts, told His followers very clearly that they were to be loved, taken care of, and accepted into communities. Not that we freak out because we don't understand their choices, and we feel they will be a danger to our way of life. The data says differently. The whole argument of "we want to protect our daughters from predators," is frankly, bullshit. For one, this is making the assumption that straight women can't protect themselves, or make their own choices about who they reside with. Also, it really only focuses on one side of the issue. What about your concern for the safety of someone's daughter who has decided that they're a son, and then gets assigned to live in a dorm with straight men who may or may not be accepting of that individual's choice? Theoretically speaking, if I had chosen to make the transition from a female to a male, I would not have felt super safe living as a male in the guys dorms, unless I knew for sure that I was put in a room/wing with people that I trusted to not discriminate against me.
Finally, that brings us to the issue of discrimination. I really have a problem with anyone in a privileged group crying discrimination, while also soundly ignoring the ways that they are actively discriminating against less privileged people groups. I understand that having your beliefs challenged is difficult. After all, being at Jessup taught me that. It also taught me how to deal with it gracefully, look at scripture critically, ask Jesus about it extensively, and possibly change my beliefs to accommodate what I found out. Do I think private institutions should have the right to determine how they deal with these issues? Yes. Do I think that it gets more complicated when you take state financial aid? Absolutely. Do I think that it's discrimination when the State attempts to make sure that all of the students in all schools are protected and given equal access to all levels of education? Not at all. After all, Jessup is an at-will institution. Students choose to come here. One would assume that they know that by making that choice, they are going to be in a community that very strongly promotes certain values over others. I actually think that's an issue of free choice.
At the end of the day, there is actually one really easy answer about what Christians should do "about" LGBT+ people they run across: Love them. Simply show them that their life choices do not change how much Jesus loves them, how He created them with value, and how they have free access to His power to change their lives, and then let them figure out what that looks like. While you're at it, love the people who aren't quite there yet. Who still react in fear, because that's what they were taught, or that's how their perspective has led them to read the Bible. Despite my strongly held beliefs, and my love of "being right", I believe it's more important to be a loving person than to win every battle. Call me crazy, but I do follow a guy who got himself killed to save every soul in the world. Until I reach that level, maybe I'm not crazy enough.