When I tell people in Philly about the place I went to for college, I try to start by giving a few specifics in the hopes of telling the whole picture. I don’t know who’s more amazed: my friends, for the fact that someone as normal and smart as me attended such a place, or me, that my friends could be ignorant that so many colleges like Asbury exist in this country. Generally people are both shocked and entertained to hear guys and girls were only allowed in each others’ dorms for a few hours on Saturday afternoons, or that I had to attend mandatory chapel services three times a week for a grade, with assigned seating and points taken off for sleeping.
They’ll chuckle and roll their eyes at the litany of things we weren’t allowed to do as undergraduates: most notably drink alcohol, smoke, and dance (unless it was choreographed). They’ll be incredulous at the fact that we couldn’t wear shorts during class, and that girls couldn’t wear t-shirts to class until the year before I became a freshman. And I’ll laugh along, wanting to show that I too understand the silliness of much of this now, and that I’m not one of those crazy religious people that drank the Kool-Aid. The thing is, I deeply enjoyed my time at Asbury, and I’m thankful for the wonderful people I met who had better things to do with their Fridays than drink to oblivion. I cherished the environment of faith and intellectual curiosity, two things so central to my humanity.
And then my voice will harden as I explain why my rosy feelings have been tainted with a bitter ache, and why I cannot ever see myself returning to a reunion anytime in the near future. I will explain how, two years ago, I became the victim of workplace discrimination.
It’s best not to go into specifics here. Suffice it to say that I was very, very close to receiving an adjunct teaching position at Asbury straight out of graduate school, a coveted foot in the door for newly-minted MFAs in the fiercely competitive field of academic theatre. I know for a fact that I was withheld the position for nothing on my resume or transcript, and nothing that I chose to disclose in an interview.
I am gay, a fact that has at turns been the source of much self-loathing, agony, peace, and liberation for me. At the time of this incident, I was only “out” in the very supportive cocoon of my graduate program, save a few friends. I will never know how this extremely private piece of information I had no intention to make public made it to the ears of Asbury’s faculty, and it’s probably best that I don’t know. It isn’t healthy and isn’t the issue anyway.
It hurt, Asbury. It hurt a lot. I gave so much to this college as a student. I was one of the hardest-working students I knew. I served on student government, helped add an honors program, and directed more plays than any other undergraduate in a decade. I was so thrilled to give back, even as I knew the difficulty teaching there would present.
People tell me it’s for the best, that I couldn’t have been myself here. I want to agree. But I think of how much fun it would be to teach theatre to a crop of earnest freshman in this place I called home, and I find myself wondering. I think I would have been happy for at least a little while.
Asbury, I addressed this to you as an institution, rather than any individual person or people, not because I don’t know the appropriate parties but because I’d like to protect them. I know full well most of their personal views aren’t really what’s at issue here; such decisions are made to appease the beliefs of a handful of conservative donors. I can forgive caving to this pressure even if I can’t quite condone it.
Asbury, I have chosen to make this public after two years of silence because of recent events. President Obama passed an executive order last week that essentially made your actions to me unlawful. Those who are interested in such things have watched as many high-profile Christian colleges have affirmed their right to continue in GLBT-directed discrimination. An example:
There is expected to be much more of a backlash to this executive order, to say nothing of much pushback from Republicans in Congress, if for no better reason than that Obama passed it.
Asbury, I have no intention to sue you. This was two years ago, and I know I have no legal leg to stand on. I’m not sure I’d pursue a lawsuit if I could. It would hurt too much.
Asbury, I’m writing this for your own sake. For the sake of the thousands of GLBT students who have passed through your campus, silently hurting while earnestly pursuing their faith. For the sake of professors who taught diligently and faithfully for decades, while desperately hiding their orientation for fear of losing your jobs. And if that’s not enough, for the sake of the institution itself. In fifty years, don’t you want to be on the right side of history? Don’t you want to be proud of your courageous stance against bigotry and ignorance even when it wasn’t easy? Don’t you want to make the right choice when it isn’t being forced upon you?
Don’t be one of the ones who fights this new mandate. Embrace it for the love and acceptance it represents, and change your hiring policy for GLBT employees.
And believe it or not, if you’ll take me back, I’ll take the next plane to Kentucky.
Unashamed Class ’10