Half a Loaf at Lee University

by Jen Ham

Today was a reminder that success is always subjective. We spent the day at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, a Pentecostal school. Half the Riders spent the morning engaging in one-on-one dialogue — this because at 10 p.m. last night, the administration at Lee revoked their offer for us to have public forums, to give speeches, and to assemble in groups larger than three or four. The other half spent the morning in nearby Deer Park, setting up for a concert by Jason & deMarco, a gay Christian pop duo. The former is an alum of Lee.

After the concert, which was attended by roughly 100 Lee students and community members, most of us went back to the university to continue speaking to students. During our debriefing this evening, we related many stories of positive interactions with the students; some spoke of Lee students saying that their perceptions of GLBT people had changed through these conversations. Others, of course, did not feel that there had been so many successes.

It was related to us that during his meeting with several of the Riders in the morning, Lee president Dr. Conn said that we should, "Appreciate receiving half a loaf [of bread]." In other words, he told us there would be no compromise — he had broken his promise to us and told us we should be satisfied — even grateful — with half of what he had pledged to give us. This, naturally, did not sit well with many; but others felt that the conversations they had had were too important, and did not want to risk destroying what they saw as progress with a direct action that might end in arrest. When it came to deciding what to do tomorrow, tensions arose, with some wanting to pursue further conversation and others encouraging direct action.

Before we could decide what course to follow, fate intervened. In a flurry of activity, one of our Riders, Alexey, relayed to us that, just as Rev. Mel White had predicted in Lynchburg, the bus had been defaced within days of beginning our journey. Our brave and stoic driver, Dande, had witnessed a mother and son writing "Fags-Mobile" in hot pink spray paint on the starboard side. Our reactions were as diverse as we are — there were tears, there was anger, there was quiet determination and cries that it should be seen as a sign that we are doing hard but much needed work. Whether or not the culprits will be caught remains to be seen, but the incident certainly helped us decide what tomorrow’s actions will be.

We will not be grateful for the "half a loaf" offered to us; we, as human beings equal in our humanity and in the eyes of God, deserve a whole loaf. We will continue to seek dialogue with the students, for we do this work to bring light and hope to the students on these campuses who must each day listen to their authority figures denigrate them, tell them that they are not fully human or worthy of God’s love. But we will demand the whole loaf, and Dr. Conn will hear this when we gather tomorrow at the steps of his office to pray that the accepting and loving spirit of Christ will embrace him and his campus, which needs the justice and healing that only He can give.