How Seeing Pride on Campus Impacts LGBTQ+ Religious Students
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Pride month, pride flags, pride parades. Why is pride such a big deal? And how does it impact queer students from religious backgrounds?
My own journey to understand my sexuality and spirituality was filled with conflict, confusion, fear, and doubt. When I first came out to my mother, she cried and said that she would need to check the Bible to see if that was okay — if my soul could still be saved.
Unsurprisingly, that wounded me. It sent me into a spiral of questioning if I could somehow fix myself back into the normal child she wanted. But love is not a choice. If it was, why would I choose a life that would bring me discrimination, hatred, and the threat of violence? Waking up to check the news to make sure my rights haven't been taken away overnight is not an experience I'd wish upon anyone.
One of the reasons that pride flags and acts of pride are so crucial is that visibility creates awareness. While such a display doesn't seem like much, going from a religious background with no outward support to a university with pride flags, banners, and safe spaces was a hugely impactful transition.
Pride Eases the High School-to-College Transition
While I was figuring out my identity in high school, there were very few resources, and barely any classrooms had those "safe space" stickers. There was a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), but it wasn't the most accessible. They didn't have much pull with the administration, so it was a struggle to hold even small events and keep the GSA afloat.
At that point, I turned to my faith. But this was also around the time that my church turned on me. In youth services, I had reached the age group in which the church pastor began explaining sexuality and sin, increasing the internalized homophobia I had barely started to deconstruct.
Attending the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire — one of the "best of the best" colleges in the United States — was a 180 by comparison. During my first year, I lived on the Rainbow Floor, and the Living Learning Community offered to provide a "safe, inclusive, and community-driven experience." Already surrounded by a stronger community than I had ever had before, I felt more comfortable on campus, too.
The Gender & Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) puts on several events for the community, drawing in diverse students, queer and not. The GSRC also has a safe space in the campus's central building, where students can spend their downtime surrounded by pride. Everywhere you look on campus, there are displays of pride — something I never expected or experienced before, something I needed to lift me up.
Visual Representations of Pride Stokes Tolerance
Along with awareness comes education. By showing support for the LGBTQ+ community, the university creates and enforces an environment and attitude of tolerance and love. There are opportunities to learn about history, the community, and diversity at many different levels for anyone and everyone.
UW offers several gender and sexuality classes, along with a minor in the subject and a planned major. Those who attend GSRC events can also educate themselves about the LGBTQ+ community by visiting information booths or grabbing pamphlets.
Students can also visit the weekly PRIDE club for education and community. It hosts movie and game nights, as well as presentations on different identities. I love learning about other identities, and appreciate that people can possibly learn about mine too. The PRIDE club also teams up with the campus's religious leaders to host weekly events for queer students questioning their faith, as the pastor is very pro-LGBTQ+ and aware of the division between many religious communities and the queer community.
Pride Flags Identify Safe and Comfortable Spaces
Seeing pride flags around campus also provides safety and comfort for LGBTQ+ and questioning students. They often indicate teachers and professors who can provide safe places.
Because of the current debate on the morality of homosexuality in relation to religion, there can be extreme danger in coming out and being true to yourself. Queer kids may be subjected to conversion therapy or disowned. Fear and threats can lead to repression, which can, in turn, lead to depression and suicide, with LGBTQ+ youth being more likely to attempt suicide than other youth. The smallest amount of support — like displaying a pride flag — can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
The Dangers of Eliminating Pride on Campus
LGBTQ+ students at religious colleges have been under attack. But instead of leading questioning students toward Christianity, they're dissuading students from religion altogether.
At Seattle Pacific University, graduating students recently protested the school's effective ban on hiring LGBTQ+ employees by handing the interim president pride flags during commencement. This indicates the power of pride symbols.
As a private school affiliated with Free Methodist ideologies, they officially state that it is only through "marriage between a man and a woman that the full expression of sexuality is to be experienced and celebrated and that such a commitment is part of God's plan for human flourishing."
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, this debate involves real people and real lives. That is a fact so often overlooked.
I can understand wanting to remain true to your beliefs and understandings, but when your teachings call for respect, love, and support, how can you, in good conscience, discriminate against others in God's kingdom?
These actions and displays scare and threaten the LGBTQ+ community away from religion, especially those who believe and want a relationship with God. Luckily, through taking my time and using LGBTQ+-friendly resources, I've been able to re-examine my faith without as much outside influence. Along with that, resources provided by the university and the PRIDE club have been vital in helping me understand and interpret certain things from the Bible that can be taken out of context to appear negative.
As the years went on, my mother accepted who I am and has since done research, joined an LGBTQ+ parent support group, and dug deep into her faith and the Bible to bring forth one of the most important commandments.
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:7-8 NIV). It doesn't get much clearer than the simple instruction to love one another.
Meet the Author
Devin Anders Muellenbach
Devin Anders Muellenbach (he/him) is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire working to complete his associate degree of arts and science. He hopes to graduate after the fall of 2023. His dream is to become a fiction author and singer.
Devin loves writing novels and creating characters and different worlds. His author inspirations are Alice Oseman, Casey McQuiston, and Venessa Kelley. His music inspirations are BTS and Thomas Sanders.