Affirming identity despite neutrality

LGBTQ community creates safe space at SPU

Last year was the first time junior Nathan Bennett painted their nails and wore makeup.

“It was absolutely terrifying,” Bennett said. “The first time I wore makeup it was absolutely terrifying.”

When Bennett first came to SPU, they’d still been in the closet. It wasn’t until around February 2017 that Bennett began to identify as nonbinary, use they/them pronouns and, eventually, paint their nails and wear makeup as well.

According to Bennett, the journey was a yearlong process and only happened once they became more educated about the differences between sex, gender and gender identity.

Coming into college, Bennett had been seeking a way to reconcile their sexuality and faith and had heard that SPU was a progressive university. However, the reality Bennett faced seemed different than they’d expected.

Often times, it seemed that the LGBTQ community was not broadly discussed, which made Bennett’s journey to self-realization much more difficult.

Bennett and others interviewed by The Falcon have felt a sense of silent oppression due to SPU’s neutral stance on human sexuality and gender identity. Because of this, some students, including Bennett, feel that SPU is not equipped to serve LGBTQ students.

When Bennett first began to tell people at SPU that they identified as nonbinary, many responded with discomfort and a lack of understanding, avoiding eye contact when discussing their identity.

“I’ve experienced a lot of passiveness being part of a community that is not equipped to have these conversations,” Bennett said.

“My identity has never been addressed at SPU,” Bennett said. “Nobody is willing to name the discrimination that happens on this campus because then they would be at fault. I don’t think they see the urgency of the change that needs to happen.”

Chris Yang | The Falcon
Junior Nathan Bennett experiences passiveness on campus while living into their identity.

 

Haven President Brian Pfau sees experiences like these as evidence of the balancing act happening at SPU.

During his first year at SPU, Pfau did not tell anyone he is gay for fear of feeling unsafe on campus. The longer he went on, the more he felt the need to speak out for himself and fellow LGBTQ students.

“You’re not supposed to be at an institution where you’re paying to go and have to stay in the closet,” Pfau said.

The first person Pfau met at SPU was his friend Alyssa O’Connor who introduced herself as pansexual.

“That’s when I thought ‘maybe I’ll be okay here,’” Pfau said. “Everyone deserves to live authentically.”

Pfau sees SPU, on one hand, as trying to be an institution where LGBTQ students can attend and pay tuition. On the other hand, he sees them being a place where students and parents who are homophobic are not being alienated.

SPU’s statement of human sexuality affirms that “people must be treated with respect and dignity by all institutions in society whether male or female, young or old, rich or poor, believer or unbeliever, homosexual or heterosexual.”

Furthermore, SPU’s non-discrimination policy, which states that SPU does not “discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in its programs or activities,” fails to mention sexual orientation.

Pfau has found that it is up to groups like Haven, SPU’s LGBTQ club, to go out of its way to host discussion-based events, because in his experience, administration will not.

When Pfau reads the statement on human sexuality, his main takeaway is that SPU “respects homosexuals” but does not affirm “queer love” on the same level that it affirms heterosexual love.

“You’re not up to God’s plan, and that’s the middle ground that a lot of students feel walking through this campus,” Pfau said. “We’re not an affirming campus, but we don’t have blatant homophobia, so what do we experience?”

Pfau feels that SPU’s quietness on the issue will only continue to cause problems until a firm stance is taken.

“I don’t know how long we as a campus are going to be able to do this,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to choose.”

Concerns about SPU’s neutral stance on LGBTQ issues have been brought to Dean of Students for Community Life Chuck Strawn in the past. He believes that all of SPU’s students are “amazing” and are “brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“It’s our responsibility to protect them not only reactively but to also create an environment where students are welcomed,” Strawn said.

However, sophomore Drew Cortez, who identifies as “a gay and queer cisgender male,” says that SPU’s current statement of human sexuality is not conducive to a welcoming environment and would like to see the statement completely scrapped.

Chris Yang | The Falcon
Sophomore Drew Cortez finds a safe space and home in Haven.

“[The way that it is worded right now is] like saying okay you can be here, but you’re really not accepting us,” Cortez said. “It’s a quiet form of oppression. It’s like you can be present in this space but nothing in this space belongs to you.”

Additionally, because sexual orientation is not included in the statement of non-discrimination, Cortez feels SPU doesn’t care about the LGBTQ community.

“We’re literally being erased from campus,” Cortez said.

To students who do not feel included in the statement of non-discrimination Vice President for Student Life Jeff Jordan said to look at other university policies that encapsulate treatment of all students.

According to Jordan, while there is not an annual process that happens to update the language used in the statement of human sexuality or non-discrimination policy, there are different departments that are responsible for policies.

“It’s not that these policies aren’t reviewed,” Jordan said. “However, there is not a committee that reviews them annually.”

Strawn encourages students to continue to ask questions and speak their story, but also to think about trajectory.

“We are moving towards a place that’s much more inclusive,” Strawn said. “Institutional change doesn’t happen overnight, but the trajectory is one that’s positive.”

First-year Andy Spalletta is witness to this positive trajectory.

Spalletta identifies as demi-gray, genderqueer panromantic. For Spalletta, this means they might be sexually attracted to someone as gray-sexual until they have a demi-sexual partnership with that person, and that they are panromantic for all genders.

They prefer genderqueer over nonbinary because they view nonbinary as most utilized by mainstream society to group a comprehensive group of genders that are not male or female, whereas the identity label genderqueer is a specific gender identity.

Upon first arriving on campus, Spalletta had long hair and presented as more feminine. When they began to further develop their sense of identity and change their appearance, they lost many friends at SPU.

“I’ve had classmates who came up to me and said they didn’t approve of my sin,” Spalletta said.

But Spalletta was not discouraged.

Spalletta thinks SPU is on a more-inclusive and progressive track and that, while it has a lot to work on, it is headed in the right direction.

“As a queer person, I’ve found that it’s a combination of administration and

students speaking up for our community that makes me proud to be part of this school.”

For sophomore Alyssa O’Connor, being a student at SPU has been the hardest journey she has ever been on as a pansexual woman, but one that she is thankful to have.

“I’ve learned to love myself in ways that I never thought I could, and that’s the biggest gift I’ve ever been given — the opportunity to learn how to be strong and who I’m called to be,” O’Connor said.

Upon making her college decision, O’Connor said her father was a bit hesitant after reading up on SPU’s Statement of Human Sexuality and Non-Discrimination policy.

“He wanted me to have a great college experience, one that was conducive to who I am. I think we were all a little nervous about that,” O’Connor said regarding SPU’s Statement of Human Sexuality.

Senior Sarah Rasmussen grew up as the child of a pastor of a covenant church and didn’t know that someone could be anything other than straight.

Rasmussen considers themself genderqueer and uses they/them pronouns. While biologically their sex is female they see their gender as more masculine.

“I don’t think being gay is something you stumble onto,” they said. “It wasn’t me becoming gay, it was me looking inside myself.”

Rasmussen chose SPU because they wanted to explore faiths other than their father’s. After attending SPU for almost four years, Rasmussen found that their sexuality and faith didn’t align.

But they didn’t have to, Rasmussen said. “Me happening to find solace in the Christian faith and me being gay can exist at the same time. God doesn’t make mistakes.There’s so many people that identify as [part of] the LGBTQ community, so I don’t think that ‘mistake’ could be made that many times.”

However, some students in the LGBTQ community on campus have had different experiences with fellow students.

Bennett recalls rampant toxic masculinity present in the residence halls.

“Going to every tradition feeling nervous like I’m an outsider. The pressure to shower without a curtain or going on roomies and having to pretend like I’m interested in women.”

Similarly, Cortez found discomfort when he first transferred to SPU during the fall of 2016 and was placed on Sixth West Ashton.

“Whenever I walked onto the floor I could just feel the tension,” Cortez said.“It was the little things. People would joke around and say ‘oh that’s so gay.’ I had a rainbow flag in my room, so it’s not like they didn’t know.”

Rasmussen remembers being scared to live in the residence halls at SPU.

“I told my two roommates right away, ‘hey, I’m gay, and if that makes you uncomfortable while I’m changing in the room I’m more than willing to leave the room to do that,’” Rasmussen said. “I was ready to make any changes necessary because I felt like I was the burden in the community.”

Though they were worried their presence was going to be a hinderance to the way to people lived, Rasmussen has never experienced direct hate or discrimination from anyone in the SPU community.

“[My roommates] said they didn’t care, and that was a huge relief,” Rasmussen said.

For O’Connor, much of her frustration with the university is the fact that she does not see LGBTQ faculty teaching her classes, calling it “damaging when the person who is teaching you doesn’t acknowledge your existence.”

“I don’t have resources on this campus; I have a lot of cis, white men to look up to, and that really doesn’t do it for me,” O’Connor said. “They will never know what it’s like to be a queer women walking into an interview and needing to be vocal about their identity.”

Something as simple as going to the bathroom has also presented a struggle for Bennett and Rasmussen when it comes to their identities.

If Bennett wears a dress, they feel that they can’t use the urinal and will enter the stall. Before they exit they listen for people and think about how someone may react.

“I’m scared of making other people uncomfortable,” Bennett said. “There have been times I’ve come out of a stall and someone had to do a double take. Gender neutral bathrooms are a beautiful thing.”

Rasmussen also resonates with the fear of causing others discomfort.

“I feel comfortable on campus except when I have to use the bathroom,” Rasmussen said, due to their masculine presentation. “A couple of times I had an RA call floor hours on me.”

For Cortez, SPU’s Haven has truly been a safe haven and a home. Through it, he has found a safe space he believes everyone should have.

To the LGBTQ community within the SPU, Cortez says, “Don’t try to fix yourself because there’s nothing about you that needs to be fixed.”

Read more on the history of Haven at SPU here.

This article was posted in the section News and tagged .

5 thoughts on “Affirming identity despite neutrality

  1. Nathan, Brian, Alyssa, Sarah & Caleb – thank you for speaking your truth! We can all learn through your courageous sharing.

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