Two LGBT students at Andrews University who were involved in last week's "Conversation with LGBT Students" facilitated by the school agreed to write their reflections on the event for Spectrum, as we try to do our part in making sure different groups are not just talked about, but are given a voice.
The first reflection was written by Alicia Battle, a senior at Andrews University, who will be graduating in December with a degree in art. She plans to go to graduate school and then work as an art therapist.
The second student published here has requested to remain anonymous.
On April 19th at Andrews University LGBTQ and their allies were given a chance to share their stories and experiences. And it was a pretty big deal. Ridiculously big. It was the first time LGBTQ got to lead a program about and as LGBTQ students and a lot of hard work, nerves, and planning went into it. All this semester we’ve coordinated hour-long meetings talking about what we wanted to say and do with our time, various members met up with faculty to hash things out, we worked on art work and poetry to help us communicate what we rarely get to say out loud on Adventist campuses - and last Sabbath, all of this work paid off. It still doesn’t really feel real, to be honest.
The day of the program, I was really nervous all day. I had this terrible stomach ache that followed me from church to lunch to the program. But there was excitement too, because everything we had been working for was coming to fruition today and despite all the nerves, I knew the program would go beautifully. The group was finally getting a chance to share their stories and besides, we weren’t doing this just for ourselves. This program was for the kids who are afraid to come out and are slowly dying because of it, it was for the kids who’ve been kicked out of their homes and ostracized by their families, and it was for the kids in the LGBTQ community we have lost throughout the years. It wasn’t just an honor for us, it was a necessity.
After some beautiful openings statements from Andrews’s faculty, four students went up on stage and talked about their personal journeys on discovering their sexual identities. It was so brave of them to go up there and talk about these intimate feelings and discoveries in front of a roomful of people. Telling over 600 people that you attempted suicide or that your parents called you an abomination, leaves a person so vulnerable. These are the types of things that would be hard to admit to ourselves, but somehow these students - my friends - found the strength to talk about this with a roomful of strangers.
I personally participated in the Q&A segment, that was held at the end. I had had my reservations about participating in it, I am not much for public speaking, especially when answering questions off the cuff. But when I got up there, and was immediately surrounded by friends, on all sides, I felt safe. The questions we got ranged from thought provoking to baffling and some we answered better than others, but the important thing is that we got the conversation started and people are interested in learning.
To close the program we sang “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan. We had wanted to end the program with a feeling of unity and love, because no matter what differing opinions we all have, no matter what paths of life we have taken and will take in the future, God loves all of us, and that song is a beautiful example of that. The song did exactly the job, it was meant to do. Tears flowed freely and as soon as it was over, many members of the audience came down onto the stage to exchange hugs and words. It was absolutely amazing to watch and be a part of.
I was involved with the planning of “A Conversation with LGBT Students” for the several months that we had between finding out that we could actually have a program, and the execution of the program on April 19. I had originally volunteered to be in the Q&A session, but I eventually dropped out and volunteered as a greeter instead, opting to be support from the background for my friends on stage.
I chose to change my place in the program because I was not ready to come out publicly. Most of my family doesn’t yet know that I’m gay, and because I wasn’t sure how much publicity this was going to get, I didn’t want to risk them finding out secondhand. If not for one family member that I don’t yet have the courage to come out to, I would have had no problem with coming out publicly, but the timing just wasn’t right for me.
When planning this program, we prepared for the worst; we had contingency plans for if people in the audience started shouting. As we watched hundreds of people fill the auditorium and overflow rooms before the program even began, we all grew nervous, especially those who would be on stage. Our fears were not realized.
I have struggled with my relationship with the Adventist church for years. For the first time in an Adventist setting, though I was “hiding” in the background, I felt like I was being listened to. The stories of many of my friends are similar to my own in different ways. Now, I was being heard, rather than everything being qualified with “as long as we aren’t accepting or condoning”. People were finally able to hear what it is actually like to grow up as an LGBTQ person in the Adventist church.
In the days since this program happened, I’ve heard many perspectives. Many, many supportive and encouraging comments. Also quite a few negative comments, reminding me that some people will never welcome me into the church. People are willing to show strong concern for the purity of the church and the eternal salvation of LGBTQ people, while ignoring the fact that many of us struggle with accepting our own existences. Before I hear one more time that you are concerned for my eternal fate, I want to know that you care that I am here now. This conversation made me think that this might be possible in the Adventist church.
I never expected this historic opportunity to come while I was at Andrews; as I am graduating soon, I was very fortunate to have been a part of this. I am immensely grateful to the Andrews administration for allowing, and facilitating, this discussion. From the perspective of an LGBTQ student, it may seem like too little too late, but I can’t expect the church to move as quickly as its young people. But the church needs to catch up. “Closets kill”, as one of the Q&A panelists remarked at the close. This conversation is essential for the well-being of LGBTQ young people.
Photos: Keri Elaine Lawrence
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5965