Standing up Tall in a Crooked Room
An open letter to those institutions of Religious Character of Conservative Fundamentalist Persuasion.
I am gay and I teach at an institution that accepts me as I am a loving son of the Divine and to a faith community that makes me feel at home as one of them. But this is not so for so many of my brothers, sisters and students. Many say ‘” I would like to tell you my name, my discipline, but I can’t because doing so would place my job at risk, as you well know.” And this is so sad. I write now to all those fundamentalist, self-righteous, booked based institutions and plead open your hearts and doors to love, kindness, acting justly and loving tenderly.
The story I am about to tell is neither dramatic nor a profile in courage but this too often the story of so many. Raised in a conservative Christian home, I only knew that homosexuality was a very serious sin. Then in graduate school, I fell in love with someone of the same sex ironically enough, a conservative Muslim. My feelings scared me greatly. This person loved me as well, but we never articulated what those feelings were to each other until much later, when the feelings had changed. Since that time I have loved other persons of my sex, but only recently have I accepted my sexual orientation, when I was already teaching at an institution.
On institutional websites at these Christian colleges one can find statements titled “The Covenant” or “What We Believe” or “The Bible Says” “The Koran Says’ and many other groups that discuss homosexuality, sometimes accompanied by biblical, koranic or other proof texts or “texts of terror,” as they are referred to by Christian gays and lesbians and our allies. Some institutions don’t have a separate statement on homosexuality, but do require staff to conform to the student handbook that supports only heterosexual marriage. The phrases used in these statements include “homosexual acts” or “homosexual practice” or “heterosexual marriage.” Such language allows these so called institutions of faith, love and goodness to admit gay students, but carries with it the message that the institution does not think that they can look forward to a loving, committed, monogamous, same-sex relationship in the future. As if the so called heterosexual community does comply with the above mentioned.
At many of these institutions there are no out of the closet staff members. It is unclear to me whether simple orientation would place a person’s job at risk or whether behaviour would be the primary issue.
In an article written 2011 New York Times titled, “Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity.” I am perplexed by these institutions of faith whose student handbooks state that marriage is to be between a man and a woman, that refuse to hire openly gay faculty, and yet believe it or not here the irony have clubs for gay and lesbian students in order to create a “safe” place for them. Their gay’s money is good enough, the money is not evil, but heaven forbid he or she loves another man, woman or comes out to say this is who I am “I am gay”. While I welcome such clubs, what does safety and hospitality mean if the real message is, “Here you can be safe as a gay student, but know that we think that you must be alone, without a partner, to be an obedient Christian, Muslim whatever group you would like to mention”? It is ok you can marry and deny your sexuality, lie to your wife and children that is ok. As a Muslim friend who was forced into a marriage said to me tears welling up in his eyes:´¨I hate my marriage, yes I boom , boom only on a Wednesday then it is over.¨ How can this be love or even right?
Let me quote the Roman Catholic and gay theologian, James Alison that describes this situation: “However many caveats are put into it concerning the distinction between acts and orientation, this package grinds down on us and says, ‘As you are, you really are not part of creation you are a mistake.'” And is the institution safe and inviting for gay students who have no gay adult role models as teachers, sportsman, and professors? And are there ,most definitely but let us not find them it’s against the book. You work hard to hire people of colour to have as role models for students of colour, but do not do the same for gay and lesbian students. The clear message you are sending out is that you cannot be a faithful Christian, Muslim whatever and be in a committed, same-sex relationship or friendship and so fuel homophobia. So how is such an institution a safe and welcoming place for those students who are gay?
As for gay members of your departments, they must “pass” as straight or, as I have been told, an institution might have an implicit “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, but, as the U S A military demonstrated, such a policy provides no real safety. My support comes from several friends and family, but I am out to only a few who teaches at my institution, although I think there are other allies.
Much of this debate at these institutions rely on biblical or some religious book hermeneutics. It dismays me how these institutions, schools ,colleges, business (institutions of higher education!) will cite biblical passages as if the passages are self-interpreting, thus adopting a hermeneutical practice of simplistic literalism bordering on the ridicules and the ignorant. I have been struck by the fact that while these institutions will not hire others in monogamous, same-sex relationships, they do hire divorced people without asking the grounds for the divorce. Some religious institutions as mentioned are tragically fundamentally attached to their often misinterpreted understanding to biblical, and so called sacred hermeneutics, allowing their institutions to employ divorced people so long as the divorce is based on religious grounds. Do you seriously think that the great teacher, employer, manager or student ceases to be a great or the best because his/her divorce was based on irreconcilable differences rather than adultery?
If as a gay I received a teaching award. If I were to come out , would I suddenly cease being a good teacher? Would I no longer be able to ask disciplinary-related questions that spring from my religious faith?
As you know, millennials’ views of religion and homosexuality are rapidly changing. Will institutions continue to attract students, teachers and employees?
The courageous thing for gays, and the gay teacher to do would be to come out. Gay students, knowing that he/she was sympathetic, can talk about their struggles with him and their family and church. I would have liked to have been open about my own journey in these conversations, but was silent. It pains me to think that my silence may have contributed to homophobia. But often it is not easy, but truth is like gold no matter how deep you hide it will always shine.
The gay student, teacher, worker or professor would like to be able to live his life in the open and, like many of the straights do, share life with a loving partner; however, to borrow a phrase from Melissa Harris-Perry’s book, Sister Citizen, it is “hard to stand up in a crooked room.”