Letter to the Board of Trustees from Rachel Harris

Rachel Harris, Guest Writer

To the Board of Trustees:

Courtesy of Rachel Harris

It is a gross understatement to say that some people are, in the words of Provost Laura Hartley, frustrated, disappointed, or “even” angry. You have a choice as to what you want to promote as a university, and by choosing to retain your current Statement of Human Sexuality, you have chosen to inflict violence on the LGBTQ+ community. You also have the choice to decide what “face” you give SPU. Other Christian universities are looking at you. So far, you have chosen to allow — and encourage — members of the larger Christian faith to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. By choosing to retain the Statement of Human Sexuality, you are “walking alongside” Christian institutions that uphold policies even more harmful than yours. It is not enough to turn a blind eye to the gay and transgender people involved in SPU’s community. No SPU student, faculty member, or staff member should feel that their gender or sexuality makes them evil or corrupt. You need to make a stand. Decide today to embrace the members of the LGBTQ+ community at SPU. If you do not, you are choosing to uphold systems that have been traumatizing queer people for centuries.

You may or may not have been following the many testimonies that have circulated around SPU. You may think we are exaggerating our pain. We are not. In fact, even in the very direct testimonies you read, queer people are still holding back, because we know that SPU is not a safe place to be completely honest about our identities. Please allow me to explain my perspective. Before I realized I was bisexual, I was confused with what my queer friends said about SPU’s policies. Coming from a Christian junior and senior high school where a student would be expelled for being openly gay or transgender, I thought SPU was a paradise. It wasn’t until I learned about my sexuality that I first felt the pain and trauma that many queer people experience in non-affirming places. Like I did not understand the hurt that my peers were feeling, you may not understand the impact you are making. Because the Statement of Human Sexuality does not directly affect you, it can be difficult for you to understand the impact of your actions. What may seem to you to be a small deal is significantly impacting the lives of your students, faculty, and staff.

I, like many queer people, grew up acting like I was someone else. I was deeply invested in my Christian faith. I went to weekly chapels, had Bible class every day, and attended church weekly. I was dedicated to becoming the person I thought God wanted me to be. But something was wrong. I never felt like I belonged. I carried around a lot of shame. I prayed to God begging them to tell me what to do. My pastors and teachers always said that when we believed in Jesus, God would wipe away our sin. So why did I feel that way?

When I realized I was bisexual, everything started to make sense. My queerness has never felt accepted in the Christian Church. I have generally received two different reactions from Christians towards queerness. The first group of Christians labels my sexual and romantic attraction to women as sin. These people often use common phrases like “hate the sin, love the sinner.” I don’t see them as loving when they say this, because their faces usually speak before their words do. Their faces automatically screw up in disgust, and I can tell that the way they feel about my sexuality comes from an inner repulsion, the same one that I had against myself growing up that caused me to feel so much shame. The second group of Christians expresses an interest in accepting gay people, and they generally think they do. They loudly proclaim their love for gay people on large signs that scream, “We are the cool church! We’re progressive.” Other Christians preach their love for gay people while also admitting that they aren’t entirely sure whether God really loves gay people. Each of these groups of Christians has left me feeling rejected, tokenized, or precarious. No queer person should be treated like they are a theological problem to solve. I am tired of feeling ashamed. I am tired of feeling like a piece in someone’s progressive marketing plan. I am tired of listening to people debate whether my sexuality will land me in hell.

SPU advertises itself as a diverse, accepting community, but your Statement of Human Sexuality treats queer people like a problem. It treats us like we are a fault in God’s universe that needs to be corrected to fit God’s design. For those of us who have or used to center God in our lives, feeling like a problem leads us to feel we have no place in the world. No matter how we act and what we do, we feel inherently evil and corrupted. It is no wonder that queer people have a higher rate of suicide when they exist in non-affirming spaces. We ask ourselves “Is there a place for me? Can I do what I believe to be right?” If the answer is no, we do not know how to go on. Christian attitudes towards queerness need to change. Queerness and Christianity need to become compatible. Otherwise, queer people will continue battling shame.
Your Statement of Human Sexuality has hurt countless queer people in SPU’s community. You have a choice to change the culture of your university, thus encouraging other Christian universities to do the same. No one should be treated like a problem that needs to be solved. Although you may not understand our pain, we please listen to it and take it seriously.