Homecoming for LGBTQ Alumni of Wheaton College
Some of the more anti-LGBTQ, conservative media will tell you that Wheaton’s troubles with the “homosexual agenda” started back in 2006 when the Equality Ride first visited the school. The New Amerian actually remembered a great quote from a schoolwide presentation we held there attended by 1,500 folks. In response to Wheaton’s policy that essentially made even straight allies forbidden, Ride Co-Director Jake Reitan stated to the crowd:
“It is unacceptable for an institution of higher education with a reputation like Wheaton’s to suggest that a student could not, after study, thought, and prayer, come to the conclusion that homosexuality is not a sin without risking expulsion.”
Can you imagine what it’s like to be told what your theology must be in order to stay in school?
Wheaton’s evidence of LGBTQ history goes way back, though, well beyond the time of Soulforce. We applaud 600 strong members of OneWheaton who staged a direct that might seem like the most natural pursuit for alumni, but for the fact that they identify as LGBTQ or allies: they returned to their alma mater to enjoy homecoming weekend.
OneWheaton shared what it was like to be back on campus through a press release:
“This is a real coming out, being here, being ourselves,” said Frances Motiwalla, a 2000 Political Science graduate. “That’s what this weekend is all about. This was a reassertion of our whole self as part of the community.”
Motiwalla joined dozens for whom this past weekend was their first time returning to their alma mater. Most gay Wheaton alumni never return to campus, associating their college years with shame, loneliness, and marginalization. But in a show of pride and courage, over 50 rainbow clad alumni spanning the classes of ’54 through 2013 ate together in the school’s cafeteria, attended the sold-out Homecoming football game, and showed their families around campus.
They kicked off the weekend with a free concert by Jennifer Knapp, a Christian musician who recently came out as lesbian, and a panel led by LGBTQ Wheaton graduates. OneWheaton explains that most LGBTQ Wheaton alumni never return to campus because of too many negative associations and hurtful memories. This homecoming weekend, however, saw over 50 rainbow clad alumni going back to 1954 and even current students eating together in the cafeteria, attending the football game and showing friends and family around campus.
The groups explains that the weekend, besides a few stares and off-hand comments, was a success in engaging students in conversation and providing some reconciliation for alumni. Said the group’s Co-Director Ruth Wardchenk, “When I drove onto the campus Friday I was there for the first time in 15 years and I burst out in tears. I was home and I was no longer afraid.”
While the school is not officially budging on the issue yet, their impact was certainly felt on campus. Wrote one student, “Thank you for coming to campus this weekend… I don’t quite know what I think yet, but you’ve got me asking questions and thinking. So, thank you so much for coming back to Wheaton.”
Soulforce was interviewed for the TIME article that covered OneWheaton’s organizing. You can read that article here: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2096426,00.html
We are glad to have played a part in groundswell of social change work, and we will continue to support them. OneWheaton is among many LGBTQ alumni networks to coalesce. If you are interested in learning more about alumni networks or want to start one, contact Haven Herrin at email@example.com.