I am a student at Bethel University. From the outside, I appear much like any other student on campus. I am a Christian, dedicated to my family, my friends, and my academic career. I am active in several clubs and attend chapel on a regular basis. I am also gay. Because of this, I feel that I do not fit in on this campus. I am writing this letter specifically to share my story as one of many gay students enrolled at conservative Christian colleges like Bethel University. I am writing in hopes that my story can provide a glimpse of what life is like as a gay student here. I hope my story can help initiate a much-needed dialogue for change on this campus. But before describing my experiences at Bethel, I need to explain some of my life before college.
Growing up, I was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist household. I committed my life to Christ at a very young age. While I grew in my faith throughout my childhood, I also began to have these feelings that no one spoke about. It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I finally grasped what was happening. It was then that I realized I was having attractions for other guys. The thought that I might be gay scared me. I didn’t understand how this could be. I knew what my church had to say about it. I was very active in my youth group, read my bible, prayed daily, and had a deep respect for–and a good relationship with–both of my parents. I felt close to God at this point, and yet I knew this secret part of my life also existed. While I attempted to repress any thought that I might be gay, there were constantly nagging feelings that I was different. By denying my feelings, I was only lying to myself. I knew what was going on inside my heart, and yet it wasn’t until college that I finally dealt with these feelings.
For years, I had been looking forward to attending a Christian college. I wanted to be surrounded by students and faculty who would support me in my walk with God and challenge my faith. After visiting Bethel, I knew that this was the place that God wanted me to attend. I also believe that part of my reason for coming here to Bethel was that I would be able to cure my homosexual feelings. If necessary, I could even get help from the counselors and pastors here on campus. I came here firmly believing that Bethel would help me "straighten out."
During my freshman year, I made many friends and was growing in my faith. I felt ready for anything that God might bring my way. But, I was still repressing an entire side of my life. From the outside, I appeared to be an incredibly homophobic person. I believe that my homophobic actions and cruel statements about homosexuality which I made to try to fit in were really a way of putting myself down. I tried hard, but I did not fit in with the guys on my floor. I can remember many of the comments that were made that year. Those guys used the word "fag" constantly, and everything from homework to the latest TV hit was "so gay." Those conversations and statements made me cringe inside. I felt horrible. Even my roommate made these statements. He once said he would hunt me down if he ever found out that I was gay. He said it with a smile, but I still don’t know if he was joking. My freshman dorm experience was terrifying. While I had a few friends from my dorm that year, I knew I could never be completely open with them. I had heard stories of past Bethel students who, after having come out of the closet on campus, were harassed and even hazed, and I did not want this to happen to me. Besides, I still had over three years left at Bethel, and I did not want to jeopardize any of my future, which would surely happen if I decided to deal with what was happening.
My sophomore year, I finally came to terms with my sexuality. I know that I began to act differently. I was frightened of what might happen if any of my friends found out, and so I began to isolate myself from nearly everyone on campus. I was terribly afraid of anyone in leadership positions. I feared that someone might figure out the truth about my sexuality and turn me in or even expel me. While my social life continued to get worse, I began to battle intense depression as well. I spent every free moment burying myself in my schoolwork, but this didn’t help. The pressure that I felt on campus became nearly unbearable.
Hardest of all, I felt unloved by God. I found it difficult to separate the love of God from the words of hatred and oppression said by those claiming to follow Him. I came close to committing suicide several times, but God had been looking out for me. He had given me one friend on this campus, one person who I could be totally honest with. I believe that were it not for him, I would not be here today.
Within the last few months, I have slowly been coming to terms with my sexuality. I still battle depression to a lesser degree, and the awful thoughts of committing suicide are gradually going away. It continues to be difficult for me to believe that God still loves me, but my faith is slowly growing and repairing itself. Also, I still deal with oppressive and homophobic attitudes on this campus on a daily basis. Just last week, I was eating dinner with a few friends in the Dining Center when one of the nearby students proclaimed that he would kill his roommate if he ever found out he was gay rather than continue sharing a room with him. All that I felt I could do was sit there and shake my head. Hardest of all is that I have to choose between honesty and hostility. All of my life, I have desired to live truthfully with those around me, but Bethel’s atmosphere has made me feel that I must sacrifice my honesty for safety.
One of the biggest struggles that I face today is isolation. I have found it difficult to be close with most people on this campus. I cannot fit in or be open with students and faculty who, were they to know that I am gay, would either refuse to have anything to do with me or even become hostile. To this day I do not feel comfortable walking in the dark alone at Bethel, fearful of what might happen if others perceive me to be gay. I constantly feel the need to look over my shoulder. I want to transfer out, but I would have to redo too many classes, and it would cost too much. For whatever reason, God has kept me here.
In spite of the remaining struggles that I face daily, I have also learned that I am not the only person on this campus who is going through this same situation. The past few months, I have begun to meet other GLBT students on this campus who are also living in silence. I see them dealing with the same depression that I face. I also see that many of these students are giving up on their faith in God due to the intense homophobic attitudes that many Christians on campus are displaying. This past year, I have also met a few students here who are supportive of gay students. I have felt comfortable to tell a few of these students that I am gay, and I have found much support and love from them. A few of these friends I would even consider my family since my family back home has not been very supportive the last few months. After telling my parents that I was gay, they responded by telling me that I am "going to hell," but these two or three friends on campus have always responded with love and acceptance. It is just sad that these few supportive voices often get drowned out by the overpowering anti-gay attitudes on this campus.
After having read through some of my experiences at Bethel University, I hope that this has somehow shown the discrimination and the inner struggle that I continue to go through as a gay student here. I hope that somehow, this university can realize that there are GLBT students and faculty here. While we remain silent for our safety, we are here as students, classmates, coworkers, and even roommates. I also hope that one day soon, this community can begin a much needed dialogue to end the discrimination and oppression that I face daily along with other gay students here. But most importantly, I hope that we can be seen for who we truly are, as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.