Building a Launchpad, Not a Nest
At one of the high profile Christian schools we traveled to on the Beyond Equality Ride this March, we had an under-the-table meeting with university administrators about the potential impact of leaning into the National College Athletics Association (NCAA) to respond to, or, in our dream world, divest from religious campuses that maintain anti-LGBTQI policies. The most recent wave of bad policies particularly target the transgender community, a reaction to both the end of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a 2014 White House order to extend Title IX protections to trans students on campus. But most of these schools have had gender normative and heteropatriarchal policies since... well since forever. The current outbreak of trans panic, however, really shines a light on just how invested Christian supremacy is willing to go to keep all of us in one of two very small gender boxes. And that cannot go uncontested. In that dream world, we’d win via the heart, or the NCAA would have the courage to act in solidarity with our people at discriminatory schools. It’s a lumpy pill to swallow, that we have to go for the pocketbook in a mainstream sports setting to get proper notice (and we have!) for what’s happening to LGBTQI people on campuses that deftly weave in and out the spotlight in a way that is very isolating for our people. But pocketbook it is. Students across the country have been thrillingly strategic about this. For example, the football team at the University of Missouri, the Tigers, protested until the president Tim Wolfe resigned this school year. Their message was not only indicting the calcified racist policies and practices of their school but that Mizzou was literally making money off their backs on the field. That money piece, which I’ll return to in a minute, can and does sharpen the direction and depth of vision of our queer agenda for the religious schools we visit. It helps us bridge their reality to what’s happening in secular spaces in a way that lets our work speak out to something bigger than any one campus. Student movements demand a healthy pause for questioning: How can campus activism provide a venue for challenges to culture at large, acts of resistance, and personal transformation instead of the lapdog work of feathering a nest to make it slightly more comfortable for a slightly larger number of folks? How do we, as organizers, navigate the profound amount of money and power aggregated at these institutions without getting sucked into their dreamworlds that have been, in so many way, intentionally constructed against us? There are so many opportunities to press outward. We can link the experiences of students on religious campuses with Title IX waivers and other anti-queer policies to the statewide work to counter RFRA’s and religious exemption legislative models. [It’s the same Right Wing parachurch organisations training Right Wing leaders en masse to enact both kinds of cookie cutter legislation and policy work.] We can connect the notion that HB2 may have endangered the federal funding of public universities in North Carolina because of Title IX’s transgender protections to the less amplified experiences of trans students at Christian schools so that religious facets of both of these gambits are squarely confronted. And we can use what we learn from our campus activism to connect the dots on the intimate relationship among racism, economic exploitation, anti-LGBTQI politics, and Christian supremacy. “Jesus didn’t have a board of trustees” is a phrase we use as shorthand sometimes to describe a posture of resistance to the political, social, and economic system we live in. This is that money piece and how it shapes all the ideologies we come up against...and helps build the spiderweb that connects the different faces of Right Wing expressions. Secular and religious schools often share these qualities:
Their ideologies are overwhelmingly shaped by their ethical relationship to money and our current economic and political system.
Point 1 directs how their power structures express what they believe about white supremacy and how they respond: both boards are all apparent white people with a male supermajority.
If a school is particularly keen on its Christian identity, Points 1 and 2 lead predictably to an anti-queer theological expression. That’s at the heart of Soulforce’s analysis of how we are going to get from where we are to where we need to be. So in this queer justice work that is hip to how Christian supremacy operates, it’s vital that we dig down into these roots that have been shaped by racist and economically exploitative systems. That’s when we really start to tell the truth. Campus activism understood as a component of broader youth activism opens up so many avenues to indict the academic nodes of power where racism and economic exploitation work together. Understanding how Christian supremacy has cemented and perpetuated that relationship is like having a strong needling tool to unravel the knot.