Here's my personal story: When I came out during my senior year of college, I was the student chaplain at a conservative Christian college in San Diego. Official university policy states: “We view all forms of sexual intimacy that occur outside the covenant of heterosexual marriage, even when consensual, as distortions of the holiness and beauty God intended for it.” Told that I could only keep my job so long as I agreed to abstain from any "same-sex activity"—including hand-holding—I quit, refusing to be complicit in the systemic oppression of LGBTQ people on campus. Before I graduated, dozens of current students, and hundreds of alumni, contacted me to let me know that I wasn’t the only one with a non-heterosexual orientation.
In North America, there are 118 members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), a consortium of conservative Christian institutions of higher education of which my alma mater is a part. At many—if not all—of the CCCU schools, LGBTQ students lack institutional and administrative support. However, in spite of this atmosphere—and sometimes risking expulsion—underground groups of LGBTQ students and straight allies are meeting like never before, whispering hope and life into desperately isolating circumstances. Paul Southwick and Tiffany Stubbert are co-producers of On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground (OGC). Traveling across the nation, Southwick and Stubbert are capturing interviews with LGBTQ students, faculty, and alumni of CCCU schools in an effort to spread a crucially important message to struggling men and women. Since OGC launched its Facebook page two weeks ago, 1500 people have liked it. As they upload a new interview each week, OGC is helping to shatter one of the most painful thoughts that LGBTQ people at CCCU schools face: that no one else like them exists.
When asked about the project, Stubbert said that, “OGC is best described as a movement that refuses to be ignored by conservative Christian leaders.” After finishing their interviews, Southwick and Stubbert will write a book, codifying these stories that have—for so long—gone untold. She continued: “This book will focus on the past 5 years and the development of underground groups that, through social media, have made change possible on Christian campuses…There is strength in numbers, and the numbers suggest change is coming.”
Southwick knows first-hand how important this change is, and shares his story on OGC’s website. A graduate of George Fox University in Oregon, Southwick was forced to attend two years of so-called reparative therapy when he came out. “My hope,” he says, “is that this campaign will bring a message of hope and affirmation to the thousands of LGBTQ students who are struggling with how to reconcile their faith, sexuality, and gender identities within hostile campus communities.”
When asked about the most poignant moment he’s experienced thus far in the interviewing process, Southwick told the story of a group of students at Biola University in La Mirada, CA. “The Biola Queer Underground keep their identities hidden for fear of retaliation from family, friends, and the university,” he said. “During the course of the interviews, which most of the students did without videos, using only their first names or a pseudonym, I was struck by the fear in their eyes and the sadness in their hearts because of their inability to live authentically in their community.”
Stubbert said that more than anything, she wants LGBT people on CCCU campuses to know that “You are not alone. You can be a Christian and gay. You are not an oxymoron. There are people who believe in you.”