Op-ed: No More Chastity Diplomas

Why can't religious colleges stop policing sex among students?

BY Michelle Garcia

November 07 2013 8:00 AM ET

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a short report on Baylor University's student government proposing and approving a change to its sexual conduct code. Their idea was to seem a little more welcoming to LGBT students at the Christian school's campus.

Turns out, however, that the proposed language sounded even more problematic. The old code had condemned "homosexual acts" but would now condemn any "nonmarital consensual deviate sexual intercourse."

I wondered, what exactly is deviate sex? Is that any form of sex, or just gay sex? Does lesbian sex count? Mouth stuff? Who would be policing this deviate sex? Would there be a three strikes rule? Would some students be policed with fewer strikes, because three strikes might be actually kind of kinky to them?

I wondered whether all this might have been spurred by Baylor alum Brittney Griner, who, after being drafted by the WNBA at the end of her senior year, came out as lesbian. During her time at Baylor as a star NCAA basketball player who led her team to the 2012 championships, she was told not to come out publicly by coaches and administrators. While any nonheterosexual orientation is a hot-button issue for women everywhere in basketball (more than most people would assume), it's something religious-based colleges and universities often don't want to touch with a 10-foot crucifix.

Anyway, the student government debated the change, and some of the quotes from the Baylor Lariat sound as progressive as could be from Baptist college students in Texas. Others, not so much, but they passed it. Not quite modern, but kind of sort of not terrible.

Don't worry, even if the language change was questionable, the whole idea got vetoed by the student government president. Not because the language was troublesome, but because he said it would be rejected eventually by the board of regents.

I went to a public college, and I regularly complained about the lack of activists on campus. (For some perspective, my mom was part of a group that held the president of her university hostage because there was a threat to end a scholarship program.) However, I'm positive my student government would have passed this sort of language change almost solely because the SUNY Board of Trustees would reject it. (To be clear, the current SUNY Board of Trustees, where LGBT advocate Richard Socarides is a member now, would probably send in a SWAT team if any campus dared adapt this kind of rule.)

But because I went to a public college, I have a hard time understanding how religious-based universities can legislate (and, in a sense, criminalize) sex of any kind. It wasn't until I first started working at The Advocate when I learned about Soulforce's Equality Rides, where LGBT students hop on a bus and visit as many religious and antigay campuses as possible to shake things up and, in some cases, help colleges become more LGBT-affirming places. The number of colleges that threaten to kick you out if you have any kind of sex is ridiculous.

Sure, you could say students sign on to the rules when they accept admission and make the first tuition payment. But I wonder how many of these 17- and 18-year-olds are going to certain colleges because of the excellent business schools or football teams, not because they can't wait to wear a chastity belt for the next four years or want to earn their MRS degree just so they can have sex. There's no doubt that some sign on for the full-throttle religious experience, complete with rousing revivals and mandatory chapel attendance. But it's ridiculous to expect all young adults will refrain from any kind of sexual relations, especially when this is the time of life not only for discovering yourself socially and intellectually, but, well, sexually. Believe me, I know.

I know my argument for allowing choice is usually moot when faced with a sound majority of religious people, but I wonder this: If college-age people really abide by the teachings of Christ or Joseph Smith or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, why do you have to write the no-sex policy into your college's code of conduct? If they truly believe what you're preaching and teaching, they should know our bodies and our sexualities are indeed a gift (as Baylor's conduct code states).

The real foundation here begins with educating students so they know not to swipe the gift card all over town, if you catch my drift. Othewise, what does natural sexual expression have to do with things like grades? Surprise: College students, even conservative Christian and Mormon college students, have sex. If they're responsible enough to sign away their sexual freedom, they're already presumed responsible enough to make the choice to have sex in the first place.

Slut-shaming and gay-hating only drives sexual conduct underground; good luck with those STD and pregnancy rates, by the way. They're probably just as high as at any other college in the country. These universities only make things worse, especially when they make examples out of others by kicking them off the football team or revoking a scholarship just for having sex.

So I implore all LGBT students or any kid with a conscience to think twice when religious colleges try to lure you with scholarship money or a walk-on to the basketball team. Know what you're committing to and think about whether you want to wear that chastity belt for four years. And to the LGBTQ kids at Baylor, I salute you. Now go have a love-in!

 

MICHELLE GARCIA is managing editor for The Advocate. She's a proud journalism graduate of the State University of New York, Oswego. No, she will not share her boink list. Follow her @MzMichGarcia.

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