Students advocate for the sexually marginalized

October 26, 2011 | Young Voices | Volume 15 Issue 21
Rachel Bergen | National Correspondent

Life is difficult, especially for those who don’t fit in with the norm or who are considered minorities.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer (LGBTQ) community is struggling with being misunderstood, often times by Christians. Therefore, some students from the Mennonite community have taken it upon themselves to provide support and care for LGBTQ individuals through gay-straight alliances or discussion groups. These groups don’t necessarily reflect the current theology or beliefs of the institutions, although they do reflect a need for understanding and support.

For Rebekah Enns, a Grade 11 student at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, Winnipeg, Man., who recently came out as a lesbian, being a member of Winnipeg’s Bethel Mennonite Church and a member of the LGBTQ community allows her to understand both sides of the situation. She recently established an alliance that was to begin taking place near the end of October. The reason, she says, is to help people realize that LGBTQ issues aren’t “out there and scary, but real.”

Enns’s student-run alliance has approximately 10 people planning on attending the once-a-month meetings that will take place over lunch hour. It will be very open, with people able to come and go as they please to contribute to the discussion. The alliance will discuss homophobia, sexuality in the church and what people have noticed about sexuality in school, Enns says.

Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) students Ben Borne, Krista Loewen and Craig Friesen established a sexuality dialogue group last year to fulfill the need for on-campus support and discussion. CMU Safe Space is a place for gay and straight CMU students to learn, dialogue and educate others. Friesen and Borne also work with a group of LGBTQ students who need private, anonymous support as they struggle with questions of sexuality.

“It’s important for young adults to talk about sexuality, to ask questions and to explore the possible answers together,” Borne says. “This will help them prepare themselves for the long road ahead.”

In this way, he says that young adults will be better informed about issues of sexuality, they will get to know themselves better, and they will hopefully see facets of God that have not yet been discovered.

Because both Borne and Enns attend faith-based educational institutes, they believe that it is important to address issues of sexuality and faith.

“Especially because [my school] is in the faith community, I find it very important to have people accept one another,” Enns says.

Borne has noticed an increase in interest and support for CMU Safe Space on campus. “We have a 40-person e-mail mailing list, and it’s still growing,” he says. So far, neither Enns’s alliance nor CMU Safe Space have experienced very much opposition.

“I haven’t really had any [negative feedback] yet,” Borne says. “Only one person in the past shared that they were uncomfortable with CMU Safe Space being announced over CMU e-mail.”

For Enns, fellow students that she has spoken to have been supportive, although she hasn’t widely discussed the alliance she is organizing. “I’m expecting that there will be negative feedback,” she says, “but I’ve got high hopes for the group.” Enns’s real hope is that her school will not seem like a scary place for those who are “in the closet” sexually but who want to come out.

Across the border, gay-straight alliances and discussion groups are active in Mennonite schools as well.

According to a Goshen (Ind.) College community website, they “celebrate the many ways in which Goshen College is becoming a place where students can be open about their sexual identity and affirmed for who they are.” However, they lament that this is not extended to college faculty.

This is why some Goshen College alumni and students established Open Letter this spring. Open Letter is an online petition that asks Goshen to consider hiring openly LGBTQ faculty who are in committed relationships, and to allow them to be open about their sexual identity, thereby becoming role models for LGBTQ students. Open Letter currently has 273 student signatures and 99 alumni signatures. It also has faculty and staff support.

“We wish for Goshen College to become a place that actively seeks the contributions of openly gay [LGBTQ] faculty, accepting them as valued and integral parts of this diverse community of passionate learners,” the letter says.

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