When Queer Students At Christian Colleges Are Told, “Well, You Chose To Go There”

A graduating senior reflects on why she chose to stay at her evangelical college after coming out.

For the second year in a row, Campus Pride released its “Shame List,” calling out the “absolute worst college campuses for LGBTQ students in the nation.”

And for the second year in a row, my campus made the list.

As I’m sure many of you know, being gay at an evangelical university is a weird time. I attend a school that has repeatedly made the news for its anti-LGBT policies and controversies over the years.

Our administration successfully received an exemption from Title IX (which is meant to prevent gender discrimination) because of its Christian affiliation. Every year, I check a box on my housing application promising that I will not engage in any kind of “homosexual activity” so that I can qualify for a dorm.

I sit through sermons by chapel speakers who speak as if there could not possibly be any queer students in the room.

I watch straight couples hold hands and fall in love, knowing that I could get expelled for having that same beautiful experience.

I get nervous every time I write a new blog post because I’m not sure which professors or administrators are reading it.

I am against the rules.

Caitlyn J. Stout

But when these kinds of frustrations are discussed in mixed company, one of the most common and most frustrating rebuttals queer students hear is: “Well, you did choose to come here.”

In other words, “All of the pain you have experienced here is actually your own fault.”

In other words, “It’s not really discrimination if we warn you about it first.”

In other words, “You already knew that we didn’t want you.”

Oh, classmates. Friends. There’s so much that could be said. There’s so much that I want you to understand…

Some of us did not choose to come here.

Just like you, some of us were destined by parental pressure, financial aid, and youth group socialization to continue our educations in safe, Christian settings. For some, secular universities were never an option. And for some, they became even less of an option when our parents began to notice “dangerous” or “unholy” tendencies.

Some of us thought those tendencies would go away.

Some of us came to our evangelical colleges so we could turn ourselves straight. And some of us are still trying. Some of us are still being told by counselors and chaplains that trying is the right thing to do. Some of us will try harder tomorrow.

Some of us are just now starting to realize that we don’t fit in here like we thought we would.

Some of us have yet to put words to our differences. We have yet to explain the heart-stopping panic that happens when a conversation turns to LGBT issues. Some of us have yet to verbalize that ineffable ache of realizing that that one friendship that might have been a little bit more than a friendship will never really be more than a friendship.

And many of us will not bother coming out until after commencement. Because many of us have no reason to believe we are truly welcome in these institutions that we have tried so hard to call home.

Caitlin J. Stout

Not all of us, though.

Because to be fair, I did choose to come here. And throughout my coming out journey, despite dehumanization at the hands of the student handbook, I have chosen to stay. This has led to several instances of people (straight or otherwise) asking me, “Why don’t you just leave?”

It’s a valid question, and it’s one that I have asked myself. But now, as a senior, I think I finally know how to answer it. First and foremost, I don’t leave because I shouldn’t have to. My sexuality should not limit my educational opportunities. That’s Equality 101.

I don’t leave because I have made a family for myself here. I have people who make me feel like a person. I have friends who I would do anything for. “Fictive kin,” if you want to get sociological about it. And I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I don’t leave because, despite the brokenness of the institution as a whole, I have met incredible professors who have shown me what Jesus really looks like. I have mentors who inspire me to continually seek God, who have affirmed my calling to ministry, and who make me more deeply aware of my status as a Child of the Creator.

I don’t leave because I know that there are more queer students on campus who need to know that they are going to be ok. And the idea of them feeling scared or alone is enough to keep me right here, reaching out.

I don’t leave because, for some stupid reason, I love my school enough to want to make it better.

So, as I work toward graduation, I submit and I subvert. I check that box on my housing application. I write blog posts. I sit through chapel. I volunteer with LGBT organizations. Most importantly, I learn how to see beauty and growth in the midst of heartbreak and pain. I learn to bridge gaps, love enemies, and believe that people are truly Good. And although attending a conservative evangelical university is not always easy, I have no doubt that it has made me a better person—and a more committed follower of Christ.

Just maybe not in the ways that the administration intended.

Liturgy-loving gay kid. Curator of fine Spotify playlists. Studying sociology, researching sexual ethics, blogging about faith. #faithfullyLGBT
@CaitlinJStout