Tuesday’s Anti-LGBTQ tabling is who Calvin actually is

Since the Tuesday anti-LGBTQ tabling incident, I’ve felt a range of emotions as a lesbian/queer-identifying student. I’ve felt anger with the group of students who chose to host the tabling event. I’ve felt anger at the prior and current silence of my Calvin peers. And I’ve felt anger towards Calvin as an institution, whose half-affirmation and half-condemnation of LGBTQ people supports and enables both covert and overt expressions of homophobia and transphobia.

I’ve watched plenty of straight people at Calvin respond in positive ways in an effort to counter the pain and harm LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty have experienced as a result of Tuesday’s event. And I’ve seen some responses that frame Tuesday’s event as unacceptable and unaligned with who Calvin is. This is unacceptable at Calvin! This event isn’t who we are! This isn’t who Calvin is! This doesn’t align with our values! This is disgusting!

It is true that homophobia, transphobia, and oppression are disgusting and evil. And it is true that oppression and evil should not be acceptable and should not align with who we aspire to be individually and as an institution. But sadly, what happened on Tuesday is in fact an extension of who our institution is. This is Calvin – whether we like to admit it or not. This is the institution we are all attached to and involved in. 

Calvin is homophobic, transphobic, heterosexist, and promotes cisgenderism and cisnormativity. Calvin has an oppressive past in relation to queer and trans people. Calvin’s stance on LGBTQ people is oppressive, no matter how many ways it is framed as uplifting or caring or in accordance with scripture. The stance that “acting on one’s sexual orientation” is sinful supports, upholds, and promotes framing LGBTQ people as being inherently sinful. Calvin’s stance leads to exclusion, no matter how much those supporting it try to soften their language and open their arms.

The event on Tuesday was horrible. But this event and the harm of homophobia and transphobia is not new at Calvin. This event didn’t come out of nowhere. And it likely won’t be the last. This is who Calvin is. And it’s up to all of us to work towards inclusive, honoring, and dignifying communities for our queer and trans neighbors.

I’ve been attending Calvin for nearly four years now. During my time here, I’ve seen a range of Calvin-sponsored and non-Calvin-sponsored events and actions that have perpetuated the harm and oppression of LGBTQ individuals.

During my first year at Calvin, the “Caring Well” conference was held at the Prince Conference Center on how to care well for LGBTQ people while maintaining the stance that there is only one true biblical sexual ethic — the “traditional” one that marriage is between one man and one woman. Caring Well was not open to questioning their non-affirming theology and refused to hear the voices of LGBTQ Christians they disagreed with. To counter this conference a group of LGBTQ students and allies staged a sit-in outside of the conference, seeking dialogue, conversation, worshiping God, and asserting their worth and dignity in that space. Calvin’s response was to increase Campus Safety’s presence at the conference center.

I’ve helped lead LGBTQ peer education in the dorms, and watched my passionate and caring LGBTQ friends bravely work to educate their peers, some of whom were set on antagonizing and invalidating the identities of LGBTQ students and leaders, including myself. I’ve heard of LGBTQ RAs being bullied by the students on their floors. I’ve known queer and trans RAs who conceal their identities.

I’ve felt the need to conceal my own queer identity as an RA for the Entrada Scholars Program for fear of students’ judgement and discomfort with me and the potential loss of my position. I’ve been in the room when LGBTQ students have demanded more from Calvin: more care, more resources, and have been met with the excuse that “we have to be mindful of the donors.” I’ve been in classrooms and heard of experiences where professors allowed “debates” and arguments about “LGBTQ issues” to ensue, opening up spaces for LGBTQ identities to be questioned and invalidated, all for the sake of “learning” and academia.

 I’ve heard the silence of my straight, cisgender Christian peers. I know many people who are aware of, but do not use, their positions of privilege and power to challenge the harm and systems of oppression that exist at the Christian institution that makes them feel welcome and included, but my queer and trans peers excluded, pushed to the margins.

Sit-ins are great. Standing in solidarity with LGBTQ people at this institution is great. Telling people “You are loved” is great. But standing with LGBTQ people while also maintaining a seat in Christian communities with the privileges of being heterosexual and/or cisgender does not change the oppression and social control of queer and trans students, staff, and faculty.

You can tell queer and trans people that they are loved every day, and perhaps many of us need to hear this, but it does not change the harm and oppression that we face. In 2013, on National Coming Out Day, chalk messages written by SAGA stating “You are Loved” were washed off the sidewalks. Now the phrase was written in a recent campus-wide email. But what has actually changed?

When are we going to actually make this a safer space and campus for queer and trans people? When are we going to start normalizing sharing our pronouns in every single classroom? When are we going to work towards dismantling heteronormativity and cisnormativity? When are we going to allow space to question the CRC’s position without defending it in the same breath? When are we going to get angry that queer and trans students who have invested in this space as students can’t work here post-graduation?

For those of you at Calvin who are cisgender, straight and want to be an ally standing in support of LGBTQ people, you must do something more than pin a rainbow ribbon to your shirt or say “You are loved.” Hold a rainbow flag while also relentlessly challenging the Christian spaces you find yourself in. Do not wait for queer and trans people to do all the work for you. The cisgender and heterosexual privilege you hold allows you the leadership positions, power, and voice that we queer and trans people often are not given.

For those of you who are LGBTQ at Calvin, know that you are valuable, essential, needed, and worthy of respect, dignity, and affirmation. You are worth so much more than the ways you are treated. You are more valuable than the words anyone could write. And you are not alone, nor do you need to do this work all by yourself.


This story has been updated.