Just three hours away from Waco, the journey to Abilene in west Texas was our shortest yet on the bus, a welcome change from 10-12 hour travel days with cramped necks and kinked backs. But we exchanged travel time for work, as no sooner did we arrive in town and check into our hotel than we were off to meet with faculty and administration from Hardin-Simmons University, our first of two schools in town.
Most schools we visit list “homosexual activity” in a prohibited list with other examples of sex outside of marriage – premarital, extramarital, adultery, etc. But at HSU, homosexuality was listed in a clause prohibiting “acts of moral turpitude” and compared directly to the sexual molestation of minors.
I knew about the policy before going into the meeting, of course. It would be silly to go to a school about a policy and not know anything about that policy, after all. But it wasn’t until after we had spent thirty minutes chit-chatting, then twenty minutes eating, and finally begun talking about our reason for our visit to the school that it hit me.
These people work at an institution that equivocates who I am with the violent rape of a young child.
While the other riders did an excellent job of explaining to the assembled HSU representatives how that comparison was inaccurate and how harmful it was to the school’s students and staff alike, I sat in anger and fear. My hand shook as I lifted a glass of water to my mouth, hoping to find my voice. The dinner ended, we were thanked for our time and thoughts, and we headed back to the hotel to prepare to meet with students the following morning, my heart still racing.
The next morning, we had two sessions with students and I feared a repeat of the previous evening – but rather than forcing us to spend any time justifying our humanity, the students actually seemed hungry for knowledge about what it means to be an ally for LGBTQ people. They understood that their friends and peers were suffering in silence, and wanted to do something about it. After our time on campus, we staked a claim at a nearby coffee shop and students continued to come and ask questions. My voice was raspy from overuse by the end of the day, but I felt light – we had at last come to a place where we found allies who cared just as much as we did.
With no time to waste, the following day was a stop at another school, Abilene Christian University. ACU was a stop on a previous ride and had responded well to the last visit by changing their policy, but they still listed ex-gay ministries as the only resource for LGBTQ folks on their counseling center website and would not allow the creation of a safe space on campus for queer folk to talk about their identities.
Emboldened by the previous day at HSU, we spoke passionately about the dangers of so-called reparative or ex-gay therapy and the urgent need for affirmation for LGBTQ identities among their students. Through sessions with students, administration, and the counseling center itself, we told our own stories of being hurt by these therapies and by rejection from the church and our families. We talked about rates of suicide attempts and homelessness among LGBTQ youth and how misinformation contributes directly to the spiritual and material suffering of current students. We pressed for a commitment to take down the resources, to draft a plan to create safe spaces, for anything, but were met with a firm “we’ll consider it.”
At the end of the day, we felt frustrated yet again – we had done everything possible to make the danger clear and seemed no closer to progress in creating safety for LGBTQ students that before.
But guess what? Four days later, the links were taken down. And my heart beat a little faster then too.
Next up: Springfield, MO.