Last week, two people I haven’t seen in some time contacted me. Both of them had very similar requests (purely coincidental). They each needed a member of the LGBTQIA community to interview for a school project.
The first friend contacted me on behalf of their high-school aged child, who was completing an assignment for a class at the small, conservative Midwestern Christian high school they attend. Having grown up in the same environment, my friend knew that I would be able to read the list of unsubtly biased questions and give thoughtful, gracious answers while recognizing the questions for what they were (and, presumably, without being too offended by the questions themselves). The second friend contacted me for a weekly paper they needed to write for a graduate-level course on making the classroom more welcoming and accessible to students of various marginalized groups. This week’s assignment was focused on welcoming queer kids.
I got these requests within 48 hours of one another. As similar as these assignments were, they each had unique and startling differences. The high school assignment was entirely focused on making the respondents justify their “Homosexuality.” Sample questions from assignment #1 (the poor student who had to send these to me assured me they had tried to change the wording but the teacher refused):
1) What are your thoughts on Homosexuality?
2) How do you think a person becomes a Homosexual?
3) What are your thoughts on Homosexual marriage?
There were 12 questions in total, all written by the teacher. As amused as I was by the consistent capitalization of “Homosexuality,” it was clear to me that the author of these questions had settled on their own opinions for each of these questions. This troubled me.
While the high school assignment tasked me with “justifying” my current life, the grad school assignment asked me to reflect on high school itself. Sample questions from assignment #2:
1) What was it like for you when you came out?
2) Can you remember any examples of teachers that made you feel
included in the classroom environment? Any examples that made you feel excluded?
3) What recommendations would you have for promoting positive experiences
in the classroom [relating to a student’s sexual or gender identity]?
Can you spot the differences? There are many. I was blown away- not only by the tone, but also by the specific language used. Assignment #1 felt like a high school teacher trying to pick a fight. Assignment #2 felt like a very different teacher asking how to make high school less awful. I wouldn’t say this was quite emotional whiplash, but it certainly came close.
If you haven’t yet gleaned something useful from this example of how and how not to be a model to today’s youth, let me put it more clearly: high school hurt me. It hurts so many kids like me. I grew up in a place where being gay wasn’t only looked down upon, it was systematically targeted and punished by the administration. Through some divine intervention, I ended up at an RCA College (Central College); this happened to be the first time in my life I was part of an educational setting where my sexual identity wasn’t a problem or something to be “fixed.”
Through Central College, I was led to Room for All. My life has and can never be the same. Just as Central gave me my first inclusive educational environment, Room for All gave me a faith community where I wasn’t merely tolerated, I was celebrated. They’ve given me learning opportunities I don’t think I would have realized I needed. They’ve introduced me to a rich and vibrant Reformed Church in America that is and can be so much more than I grew up thinking it could.
Room for All provided the faith foundation to heal me from the toxic theology my high school experience pumped into my veins. My life before Room for All felt very much like Assignment #1: Justify your existence. Life within Room for All is, thankfully, Assignment #2: How can we make the world better for you?
Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. This nationwide event is held the Tuesday following the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and is a day when people are encouraged to give to charities and nonprofits that do good work. Tomorrow, I’ll be giving to Room for All. There are many dozens more stories like mine of how this precious organization has changed lives and hearts. It is, to me, a vital resource for the Reformed Church in America, even if they don’t yet see that.
Full disclosure, I’m employed by Room for All. I’m unbelievably lucky to get to follow my calling and do this work full-time. Because of my employment, I won’t make this a guilt-trip “give to RfA” post. If RfA is important to you, please do consider a gift. But, more broadly, consider giving wherever you see brokenness in the world. The world has enough (too many?) people handing out Assignment #1. Be like the teacher of Assignment #2: ask your high school self, “How can I make the world better for you?” When you’ve found that answer, give generously.