Tag Archives: LGBT

Kudos to the Calvin Chimes

Wanted to give a shout-out to the folks at the Calvin Chimes, the student newspaper at Calvin College, for the great feature story that they ran this week.

Allowing minorities to define themselves and put their own stories in writing is a powerful thing, particularly in the sort of atmosphere fostered by Calvin College where, as one writer this week pointed out, LGBT related questions are so often purely speculative or “academic,” since few students are willing to put themselves forward as members of the community.

Other writers pointed out that they felt unsure of being able to find their place on campus were they to come out of the closet.

The articles are all pretty short. Go ahead and check them out for yourself.

I suppose I was pretty struck by how all the stories sound like the stories we were telling when I was a student at Calvin College. Reading through many of the articles, I thought to myself, “I remember when I thought that! I remember that point in my life when I said that, too.”

Although I haven’t been gone from Calvin all that long (I graduated in 2010), it’s disheartening to see that little has changed. I don’t go back, so I’m only peripherally aware of what’s going on at Calvin through reading the Chimes, the Facebook grapevine, etc. but I felt as though everything I’d been hearing from folks was that “things are changing, things are getting better.”

I have only one critique to offer the good folks at Chimes, which I do so lovingly: Everyone in this story is, so far as we can tell (there are a couple silhouetted photos), white, and almost everyone is male. Calvin is such a white institution as it is, I believe that it must be downright isolating to try and establish a place for yourself on campus as both a racial minority and also as a member of the LGBT community. There are stories there that need to be told. A writer I already linked to pointed out how very few queer women are out at Calvin College. I’m not quite sure why the atmosphere at Calvin lends itself to this sort of climate where there are lots of gay men and relatively few queer women.

What are your thoughts? Any other Calvin alums seeing this as a sign of positive change? 

Again, kudos to you, Calvin Chimes. You are the best thing about Calvin College. (And how I miss that old office.)

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So close, and yet so far

Two weeks ago, my alma mater, Calvin College, hosted gay Christian theologian Wesley Hill to share his thoughts about friendship, intimacy, and the Church’s responsibility towards its gay and lesbian members.

Hill’s talk was particularly frustrating for me because, in many ways, he’s right on the money in what he has to say about our society under-appreciating deep friendship and overstating romantic love as a be-all, end-all; yet the way in which he framed his discussion seemed to be completely off. LGBT people already understand the fundamental need for deep friendship in a world where we often face rejection – from our families, our religious communities, our neighbors, etc. Deep friendship is how we survive.

Hill’s talk seemed eager to get this point across to the Church while seeking some form of approbation for these relationships. I wrote a former professor of mine on the subject.

I don’t understand Wesley’s needs for a legitimacy from outside forces for his friendships. I realize that I’m a crazy, left-field progressive, but the whole talk seemed a little Eyeore-ish to me, and that’s precisely what breaks my heart.

The only thing that I can say in my own defense for making that comment is that I once believed all of this. Up until I was 20 or so, I was wholeheartedly committed to lifelong celibacy. I think that this mindset of, “I can’t, I’m gay” is unhealthy and rotten to the core and needs to be dismantled as swiftly as possible. If God has called you to be celibate, then I admire you and your calling. However, I don’t believe God calls people on such shallow and superficial grounds as their orientation. I don’t mean that smugly, either. Perhaps I shall be called to celibacy in my life. I could accept this. I cannot accept that choice being made for me by others, however, when they know so little of my situation. I don’t want to see others buy into this mindset that the choice has already been made simply because they are LGB.

I wish to reiterate that I do appreciate the prophetic call Hill offered, asking the Church to reconsider the way that we have placed marriage on a pedestal as the ultimate form of love.

One of my biggest critiques of this sort of discussion is that it perpetuates an obsession by the heterosexual world with the sex lives of LGBT people. I think that the deeper longing most of us feel for a significant other is not about someone to have sex with but someone to wake up to in the morning, someone with whom you can share life’s big moments, someone who will tell you that everything is going to be okay when you have more bills due than money in the bank.

Hill himself pointed this out in his comments, pointing to a letter which he received from a friend who poured out his longing for a companion who could be there with him and for him in such times.

So why can’t we be content with friends to share these moments with? Why don’t we simply live in intentional community? Well, why don’t we pose this question to the heterosexual community?

Here’s some of my reaction I wrote to a former professor of mine from Calvin College who took the time to write me some of her own thoughts:

There is an implied choice: relationship or friends. I don’t consider that a legitimate choice that needs to be made and, in all fairness, I imagine Wesley would agree. The talk, however, is quite explicitly targeted to LGB folks and how they might be able to compensate for lacking a significant other. I find this troubling because I think that there are many straight folks out there as well who are celibate and could use a word of encouragement in this. What troubles me is not the talk of celibacy but rather the implications that this is a special domain specifically for LGB folks. When we talk about the need to move away from a church that glorifies the bourgeois family, I’m all on board… I think that there is a real place for this discussion. I don’t believe in creating a false choice, however. 

Hill later went on to talk about the coinciding need for friendship and romantic partnership during the Q&A session. While straight folks got brought into the discussion a little bit more during this time for Q&A, the question of how the Church community can support celibate folks is not on equal ground when you are pulling aside a subset of your congregation and telling them, “The choice has been made for you.”

Calvin President Michael Le Roy gave an interview to Christianity Today a while back where he brought up the issue of loving the LGBT community at Calvin and what that might look like.

All of the language of serious, committed faith is obedience language—take up the cross and follow. It’s the cost of discipleship. It’s not pretty stuff that you can make nice. It’s pretty rugged stuff, but that’s the gospel. Theologically, how do we convey that truth in a graceful way and not water it down? Then that has implications for all the other issues.

Of course every Christian college president is worried about this, but homosexuality is a very real issue for campuses. We have gay and lesbian students here. I have met with them. I have talked with them. They are Christians and they are trying to figure out, “What does this mean? How do I live?”

I wonder, is this what Michael Le Roy meant when he told Christianity Today that we need to find a way to communicate our love to the LGBT students at Calvin without watering down our theology? By finding a water-carrier who is in fact gay? I for one don’t happen to believe that it’s loving to pat someone on the back, tell them we’re sorry, but this is the way it’s gotta be, and then invite them over for dinner afterwards.

I am reminded of the poem “Dinner Guest: Me” by Langston Hughes. Although it is written on a very different topic, it makes me think of my time at Calvin and how people love to talk about “the problem,” people love to talk about love and loving the LGBT community; “Solutions to the problem,/of course, can wait.”

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Calvin College’s new president speaks out

Over the weekend, someone who is a member of the Calvin College Support and Celebration group shared an interview of Calvin College’s new president, Michael Le Roy.

Don’t let the article’s subtitle mislead you when it promises that we’re going to talk about something besides homosexuality.

At the bottom of page three he starts talking about the “biggest theological challenge” facing Calvin College in general terms of how do we call others to follow Christ? How do we gracefully ask people to carry their cross without watering down our message and yet communicate compassion and sympathy when the message seems hard?

By the top of page four, Dr. Le Roy is directly applying these questions to the college’s gay student population and that’s how the article ends with the president reflecting on Calvin College’s continued desire to avoid “political” issues.

Go ahead and read the article for yourself. I myself am very disappointed in Dr. Le Roy’s seeming commitment to keep on keepin’ on with regards to the LGBT community on campus. But I’m disappointed not simply because Calvin College and its new president are keeping to the same path they’ve been on for years – that’s no real surprise. What’s more surprising is that Dr. Le Roy, unprompted, decided to make the connection between the call to carry one’s cross and Calvin’s LGBT community – as if they needed any reminding of the cross they have to carry!

To a certain point I appreciate the humility that comes through when Dr. Le Roy says, “Anybody who speaks in platitudes or thinks it’s simple to be a faithful and wise Christian in these issues [regarding homosexuality] is overlooking something.” When you consider that the group he’s speaking to is primarily hostile to the LGBT crowd, this kind of aside matters.

Dr. Le Roy and many others at Calvin College don’t want to be “political”, which I interpret as meaning controversial – which you may also interpret, if you wish, as meaning that they don’t want to upset donors.

By my definition of what it means to be “political” in this context, Calvin College is ignoring the Gospels. Jesus was never one to avoid controversy. During his ministry, Jesus associated with tax collectors and Samaritans – two groups of people who were viewed in many ways as the LGBT community is viewed by many in the Church today.

Jesus called on the Samaritan woman and the tax collector both to go and lead good and honest lives – which he calls each of us to. He didn’t tell the Samaritan woman to be Samaritan no more or the tax collector to change professions.

This comparison, of course, is far from perfect so I don’t want to push it too far.

When Jesus went to oppressed groups of people or when he spoke to those who were looked down upon by the who’s who of religious society, he never went to them with a message of, “Here. Take this cross and follow me.” He went to them with a message of liberation and freedom that he had to offer. He went to them with hope.

The most difficult message that Jesus had to give was to the wealthy man, the individual of privilege, who was respected and virtuous. When he asked what else he must do to enter God’s kingdom, Jesus said that he must adhere to the law – which he already did, the man said. What else? Go, Jesus told him, sell all you have and follow me. The message was difficult for him since he was so well off.

That’s quite the burden! And Jesus didn’t go giving this burden to the downtrodden. He gave this message to the well-off and powerful.

A little bit of humility from those who carry on Jesus’ message today would be a good starting point. Simply saying, “I’m sorry you feel bad about our message to you” is hardly an embodiment of humility or grace.

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Self-hating? How about self-critical

I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine last week where I was complaining about how I don’t get along with most gay men. She sympathized, noting how hard it is for her to make friends with women.

Another friend e-mailed me recently letting me know that she’s finding it hard to fit in with the LGBT subculture in a major American city where she recently moved. I initially (stupidly) thought that I could offer some words of comfort since I’ve been out longer than she has. As I wrote the e-mail, though, I realized that I had nothing to say on the matter. I’m out, yes, but I don’t belong to the subculture, do I? I have about 7 – 8 LGB friends in my life that I consider close – not including my boyfriend, all but two of them are women.

Marina and the Diamonds Girls

I feel the same way about gay men as Marina feels about girls.

At the time of the conversation mentioned at the beginning of the post, I wondered to myself if I was simply self-hating. I find myself posing the same question to myself again. Am I simply another gay man incapable of accepting himself for who he is, who would like to be able to pass, who would like to be considered straight-acting?

As far as the question of “straight-acting” goes, I’d like to shoot that down right away. I am happy to acknowledge my orientation. Did my blog’s name give it away for you?

My problem is that I don’t want to buy in the to expectations held out to us as gay men that we often help perpetuate. I am critical of these expectations, because I see how eagerly I bought into them for a time – and how I sometimes still stumble back on them. Not all expectations or stereotypes are necessarily bad or wrong. What is incontestably wrong with them, however, is when we limit ourselves and our identity, when we don’t dare push outside the lines that society has drawn for us where we have come to feel comfortable.

Being queer means rejecting dichotomy and erasing the boundaries that are set up for us. Hence why I prefer identifying as “queer” rather than “gay”.

How do you balance belonging without taking on all the baggage that gets added on? How do you negotiate your identity with what society tells you you are?

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God doesn’t love you that much, Simba

Four or five years can do a lot to remove you from where you were. I forget, sometimes, that this is not such a long time. It wasn’t so long ago that I bought into the idea that being gay and being Christian meant being celibate – if you want to please God. And I did.

I still want to please God.

Having individuals run around promulgating this BS isn’t helping. It’s like white people telling black people that they’re OK with them – as long as they straighten their hair (pun not intentional) and use products to lighten their skin.

The fact that some members of our community have bought into this BS breaks my heart – and so we need to call it for what it is. Too many people are being left irrevocably, deeply damaged by these sorts of lies.

Qualifying God’s love means besmirching God’s goodness and grace. I’m excited by a new group I’ve just seen in the last few days on Facebook called On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground. They posted this little gem the other day. Everyone, I highly recommend checking them out. They have a lot of thought-provoking stuff that I’m looking forward to digging into once my schedule slows down at the end of the semester.

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Calvin 11th most unwelcoming school in the country

Another year, another pathetic ranking for Calvin College on the Princeton Review’s list of most unwelcoming campuses for LGBT students.

This year’s magic number? 11.

While I’m not shocked in the least, I don’t want the amazing students and faculty at Calvin who are working so hard to make campus more welcoming to get lost in the shuffle. There is a band of heroes actively working to make things better on Calvin’s campus, a group of under-appreciated, under-recognized leaders who go through hell on that campus to create a better tomorrow.

If you want to stand with them, regardless of where you’re from or who you are, I know that they can use all the support they can get. Join the LGBTQ Support and Celebration Facebook group. We’d love to have you!

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