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Dialogue without

Dialogue without


The Equality Ride's visit to "Christ-centered" Lee University in Tennessee leaves this rider inspired. What LGBTQ students on antigay campuses need more than anything, she learns, is support for where they are right now, not snap judgments about how their lives or their school must change.

This is the third in a series of Advocate dispatches from the Equality Ride. Sponsored by Soulforce, the Ride is taking 33 young LGBT activists on a nationwide tour of college campuses with policies that call for ejecting openly gay and lesbian students. Its first two stops--Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.--led to a lot of constructive dialogue as well as a lot of arrests for "trespassing" on the universities' private grounds. The third stop, this past weekend, was Lee University, "A Christ-centered liberal arts university" in Cleveland, Tenn. This dispatch was written by Jamie St. Ledger.

When I first committed to joining the Soulforce Equality Ride, I applied a detached, businesslike attitude toward how I would conduct myself on conservative Christian campuses. The experiences I had at Liberty University and Regent University helped to solidify this view because these colleges were so eager to arrest us for attempting on-campus dialogue with their students. Though it cannot be said that Lee University administrators went out of their way to welcome us, my experiences talking to the students there has shifted my purpose and understanding of what this ride is about.

When we first arrived at Lee [on Thursday morning, March 16], students had plenty of reasons to avoid us: It was early, they were rushing to class, and they had no idea that we were interested only in peaceful, open dialogue. No tricks up our sleeves.

I quickly learned that the best way to engage in conversation was to just sit down somewhere--be it the student union, a campus bench, or a cafe--and let students approach me. More students would soon gather and broaden the discussion.

We usually did not agree. A few students commented that though my life was sinful they still believed that Jesus loved me, and they offered me prayer. Others listened to my personal story, never judging, yet not necessarily affirming my experience. Their acceptance was not essential; I wanted students to feel free to ask me difficult questions.

By the afternoon, I began meeting students who honestly admitted to struggling with their sexual orientation, some of whom claimed to be on the road to becoming ex-gay. Their admissions came as a surprise to me. Previously I had doubted that LGBTQ students would want to stay on such an oppressive campus or that they would risk coming forward to me with such honesty.

The questions and discussion these students offered me were compelling. We could relate to each others' struggles more intensely, and though I could not offer any solid reassurance that they would not go to hell, or that celibacy was an unrealistic solution to avoiding expulsion, I had a forum for my personal story and could justify my own imperative to live openly as a lesbian. I attested that I would not be able to live honestly while inside the closet or while trying to become straight, and that my overall growth and comprehension of unconditional love had suffered back when I constantly denied and abhorred my natural feelings and need for intimacy.

I came face-to-face with the struggles of LGBTQ students living on a college campus that harasses and expels them. I was alarmed at their lack of support and community resources and immediately became fearful of the repercussions of our visit. Many students thanked the riders for bringing a temporary oasis of freedom to be themselves without scrutiny. But they also said that while we get to leave their situation, they must continue to survive in such an environment.

One month ago I would not have known how best to help struggling Christian LGBTQ people living in such an oppressive place, aside from suggesting that they transfer. Now I am convinced that we must provide these students with safe spaces to confidentially discuss their struggle and receive no-strings-attached advice. Yes, we need to help abolish the antigay discriminatory policies, but these students also need a place to turn to--right now.

The LGBTQ students of Lee University are brave, because their strong Christian faith leads them to remain on their campus and bear the brunt of antigay policies. They need those of us on the outside to give them some space to breathe and to be reassured that they are not alone in their struggle. They need a strong alternative to the reparative therapy that is offered to them repeatedly. Until they have such resources to assist their survival, I remain fearful for their well-being. I move forward on the Equality Ride with a greater urgency for more dialogue with students attending schools with antigay policies. I want them to come to know that God created them with an unalterable gift, not a sickness. I feel driven to provide tangible resources that can prevent the further torment of those living with a minority sexual orientation.

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