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I’d like to thank MLive’s Brian McVicar for a very good article that was published today.

I’m also pleased by Shirley Hoogstra’s comments in McVicar’s article where she is quoted as saying, “I think the petition is very worthy and gives us a lot to focus on and it’s a great gut check.” It’s definitely an improvement over comments that were made back when the annual list was announced back in September.

The only thing I find disheartening : a couple of comments on the news story – but even that wasn’t as harrowing as I expected.

In response to the question Why would LGBT students even want to go there? one reader suggested that the petition is “just to promote an agenda”.

First of all, I would like to thank Mr. McVicar for doing a great job moderating the comments. I really appreciate that. Second of all, I would simply like to add that this is exactly the thinking that we’re trying to combat. This reader couldn’t be bothered to read the petition to see what we’re about; she/he simply reacted with a set of assumptions. The Christian/gay question isn’t an either/or proposition.

As for the rest of the comment, I’m only dignifying it with a response because I saw this same line of thinking before while I was working at Calvin Chimes from some of our readers.

“I’ve always been perplexed when people don’t like an organization (religious or otherwise), but insist on joining it and later gripe about it and look for things to change within it. ”

There is no perfect organization. Just as an example: I go to a state school now where I have support and protection if anyone were to discriminate against me for being gay – and I love it. I get to spend more time doing my job as a TA/grad student, I no longer feel defined by my sexual orientation or reduced to a label; I am no longer asked to represent the LGBT community or educate others.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who don’t understand why I identify as a religious person. (Which brings us back to the initial comment.) Is it perfect? No. Like I said, no organization is. We have three choices: A) Remain silent, B) Complain or C) Try to do something about it.

I choose C.

Our society’s common wisdom remains stuck in this dichotomous thinking: Gay or Christian. This is exactly what we’re trying to change and we think that Calvin College has a great potential to be the start of something remarkable.


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Happy Inauguration Week, Calvin College


Please join us at the Calvin College LGBTQ Support and Celebration group in calling on our new president to address the situation on campus for the LGBTQ community. As we welcome our new president, we don’t want to forget that for many in our community, Calvin College is not always a welcoming place.

We are excited about the future of Calvin College. By signing this petition, we affirm that Calvin has much to offer the world; as members of the LGBT community and their friends, family and supporters, we would like to be a part of that future.

Click here to sign!

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No more excuses

Calvin College was recently ranked in the Princeton Review’s top schools in the United States. Among other distinctions, Calvin has been (once again) recognized as one of the most unwelcoming schools for LGBT students in the country.

As I’ve already said (and I’ll probably say again next year and the year after): This is nothing new.

Neither is Calvin’s response.

According to VP Shirley Hoogstra, we can’t put too much confidence in this category. According to an interview with the Calvin Chimes, Hoogstra is quoted as saying, “I don’t like the category label… I am not a fan of dividing students over a particular quality.”

This is what we hear every single year from Hoogstra. In fact, I’m scrounging around the internet to see if these quotes were actually pulled from last year. Or maybe there’s a robot Shirley Hoogstra programmed to say the same things every year when the survey is released.

The bottom line from the administration is always: We love all of our students, whether they’re gay, straight, lesbian, bi or trans. But we don’t like this poll.

And in fact there seems to be no consistent mobility: This year Calvin was no. 11. Last year, we were no. 16. In 2010, we were no. 14. So maybe we’re actually getting worse since we’re moving closer to the top 10? Or maybe there is simply greater consciousness of the need to improve and the issues that face our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

Regardless, the appropriate response should be alarm, not shrugging your shoulders with a smile and saying “Well, we’re not perfect. But then again, who is?”

It’s telling that the school tries to distance itself from this list on the one hand, but at the same time is jubilant at being placed on the “stone-cold sober” list. Hoogstra said, “I can say I really like it that students have smart fun and they don’t have to be intoxicated to have fun, but it’s students who are saying that.” Hoogstra is particularly pleased by this bit since it’s voted on by students themselves – so it must be accurate.

Then why aren’t you worried about your own students telling you that the school isn’t welcoming towards LGBT students?

Oh yeah, because we’re all one in Christ and we don’t really see inconvenient, messy, problematic things like gender presentation or the person you’re holding hands with… Unless they happen to be another Calvin student and the same sex. Then we’ll have to ask you to leave.

Saying that you can’t see distinctions between people is a classic move for majority groups who don’t want to be accused of racism or sexism or homophobia or any other like prejudices. The only person who can really pull this off is Stephen Colbert, but at least when he does it, you know that you’re supposed to laugh. When Calvin College keeps saying that they can’t tell the difference and that they love all of us, you don’t know if it’s a joke gone wrong or some sort of theatre of the absurd.

Maybe it’s both.

This is consistent with interaction between all sorts of minority/majority groups. The majority group is often OK with the minority group until members of said group start acting in ways that aren’t in keeping with the majority group’s expectations or desires. So, in this instance, it means that as long as members of the community who identify as LGBTQ are silent and willing to constrain or gender expression to some semblance of hetero-normativity and as long as they suppress their desires for meaningful relationships, we’re cool. As long as we pretend that we’re just like everyone else, there’s no problem.

It’s that moment when you clear your throat to speak that the perma-grin starts looking a little strained.

If Calvin College really strove to care for and love all of its students, the response would not be “We don’t like this category.” It’s time for the administration to wake up and own their responsibility in this. It’s not time to sit on your hands and wait for the story to pass. We’re talking about students who come to Calvin because they want to be fully authentic. The overwhelming majority of students, gay, straight or otherwise, come to Calvin because they believe it to be an institution that promotes thoughtful engagement with the world from a discerning, Christian point of view.

By ignoring the plight of LGBT students, Calvin is only perpetuating the cycle of violence done by religious institutions against LGBT people. Sure, we can congratulate ourselves on being better than Brigham Young and Wheaton, but Spiritual Violence Lite is still Spiritual Violence.

Calvin has the opportunity to be a really unique, exciting place. In some ways, it already is and I know that that’s what draws a lot of students to it (myself included back in 2006). We could do so much better. We could be leaders that people across the country look to. And until we look ourselves in the mirror and face up to that, we’re no better than Brigham Young, Bob Jones, Cornerstone University or any other school in the country.

For once, I would love to hear the administration start a sentence with an apology rather than an excuse. Then we can finally get to the heart of the problem instead of pretending like there isn’t one.

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