Last week five Harding University students set off a firestorm of discussion about gay rights on the private, Christian school’s campus, as well as in local and national media outlets, after the publication of a zine called “The State of the Gay at Harding University.” The pamphlet was authored anonymously, and soon gained widespread attention after university officials blocked the publication’s website from university computers.
“The State of the Gay” was released late Wednesday afternoon in PDF format by the Harding University Queer Press, which is made up of “a variety of queers with various affiliations with Harding University,” according to the group’s website. The authors shared deeply personal experiences about hiding who they are, feeling guilty about their “sin,” coming out to friends, trying to pray their feelings away and finding out who their real friends are.
Within days, news of the publication popped up on the Huffington Post, the New Yorker blog, The Advocate and others.
Harding’s president, David Burks, addressed the issue at chapel service, calling the publication “offensive and degrading.” Burks reiterated the school’s position, outlined in the student handbook, that “sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage.” He also said that bullying would not be tolerated.
“C” and “Evey,” as two of the zine’s authors identified themselves, said they didn’t expect the response from the president.
“I didn’t think he was going to say anything about it because it would give us more publicity,” said C. “But I thought it was the best we could have hoped for from him. One thing he said was, ‘We’re not trying to control your thinking on this.’ But it seemed to me that they are trying to control our thinking on this and every other issue, so it didn’t ring true to me.”
The zine was published anonymously, Evey says, not for fear of retribution from the administration, but because of a desire to protect the authors’ families.
“My family is very steeped in Harding culture,” she said. “I don’t want them to think I’m a horrible person.”
That has become an issue for some, who’ve said the students should have come forward publicly. Jared Potts, a third-year student at Harding, said he agrees with the zine’s message, but disagrees with how it was published.
“I do agree that Harding does need to revise how they deal with those that come forward and say they’re homosexual,” Potts said. “Like any group of people, if there is a problem, what do you do? You go to that group of people and you say, ‘What is the issue?’ That dialogue has not happened. One, because of the anonymity, but two, simply because they haven’t come forward, in a personal sort of way, to say, ‘I have this problem and Harding is not addressing it correctly. What can I do?’ “
C and Evey were quick to point out that not every article in the zine is negative, although that’s what most people have tended to focus on. They both said they’ve met great people, including professors, at Harding who are supportive.
Only one professor was specifically mentioned in the text: Joe Brumfield. Brumfield is a licensed marriage and family therapist who teaches courses on family issues. One student found Brumfield’s course material on homosexuality offensive and excerpted sections of a book used in the class. One heading read: “Homosexuality: How can it be prevented?” It encouraged mothers not to hold their children too tightly and fathers to wrestle with their sons.
“I don’t think that anything made anybody feel any way,” Brumfield said. “I cannot make you mad. I can slap you, but that does not make you hit me or does not make you mad. It is wrong of me if I did it, but you get to choose whether to be mad or you could choose to turn the other cheek. Jesus said a lot about that.”
Brumfield made it clear he was speaking for himself, not the university. When asked if there was a place at Harding for openly gay students, he said that was probably for someone else to answer.
“The question is, is there a place in the Army for someone who doesn’t want to cut their hair? Well, if you don’t want them to cut your hair off then maybe you shouldn’t go into the Army,” Brumfield said.
“You can say that you’re gay,” C said, “you just can’t have discussions about it.”
“And that’s the hardest part,” Evey said. “Because you still have to sit through classes with professors saying you’re what’s wrong with America and you’re going to hell.”
Potts said discussion on campus has died down for the moment. C and Evey said they don’t expect things at Harding to change immediately, but they hold out hope that Harding will become a more welcoming place for gay and lesbian students in the future.
The HU Queer Press is on hiatus, but might publish other issues in the future. The authors said they have no regrets, although they fear they may have “skipped an issue.”
“Most of the country seems to have gotten past the issue of equality for women,” C said. “And I think that equality in that area is a step toward getting over homophobia. One issue here is that we haven’t gotten over the women’s issue. We haven’t even begun to address it. So a lot of people here are still stuck in the 1950s, that men have to be manly and masculine and women have to know their place. So, that is another issue that needs to be addressed and maybe it has to be addressed before we move on with this one. Or maybe we could do it at the same time.”
See previous reporting on Harding and H.U. Queer Press here.