Bay Area Reporter
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Jock Talk:
College surprised at backlash over sexuality statement

An obscure college campus in South Carolina finds itself in the national debate over LGBT rights after its board of trustees, apparently disturbed that two of its volleyball players came out last year and the state's first same-sex marriage licenses were issued, released a "Statement on Human Sexuality," asserting that marriage was meant to be between a man and a woman, that any sex outside of such a union was sinful – and that members of the campus "community are expected to follow the teachings of scripture concerning matters of human sexuality and institutional decisions will be made in light of this position."

In the days since Erskine College released the February 20 statement, with plans to include it in future college manuals, the two gay volleyball players, Drew Davis and Juan Verona, have faced an uncertain future on a campus where they thought they had found support. Both were on the squad that went to last year's nationals; now they are wondering if they will have to transfer to a more accepting institution.

"The release of this statement makes me disappointed because I have never received anything but kind treatment from everyone at this school, and my sexual orientation is no secret," Verona said. "I don't want to be in a place where I basically have to be hiding who I am. This basically came out of nowhere."

This week Erskine expressed surprise that its statement, loaded with Old Testament admonitions but somehow lacking the New Testament's messages of love and acceptance, drew national attention from gay and mainstream media outlets. The school does not understand how a statement of its strongly held religious values could be seen as creating a hostile and uninviting atmosphere for anyone.

Erskine, founded in 1839 while half the country still accepted slavery and before women had the vote, has a student body of a little under 600 and is affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

"The recent coverage of Erskine's Statement on Human Sexuality has generated considerable confusion based on an inaccurate understanding of the nature of the statement and its intent," the college said in a written statement on its website February 27. "This statement describes a position. It does not prescribe a policy and does not 'ban' any individual or class of individuals from attending Erskine. No students have been asked to leave Erskine based on this statement."

It goes on to say that the intent of the college's earlier sexuality statement was "not to reverse or undermine this familial aspect of Erskine's community ... where all types of students are welcome," and that student "conduct policies do not stipulate any minimum mandatory sanctions (such as expulsion) for any behavior or belief."

Timing is as important to public relations as location is to real estate – so let's see if we can help the administrators at Erskine understand how they wound up in this medieval quagmire. How could anyone possibly think that a simple statement informing students that they were going to hell creates a hostile environment?

The Erskine sexuality statement says, "Erskine recognizes the complexity of current issues regarding sexual morality, marriage, and other expressions of human sexuality such as same-sex attraction, gender identity, and sex outside the covenant of marriage." Really? Does it recognize that sexual orientation and gender identity are not choices? No; it relegates those who fall outside its moral compass to hell. That is not dialogue; that is fiat.

The statement says the school's policies and procedures uphold those same "biblical standards." It also says "members of the Erskine community are expected to follow the teachings of Scripture concerning matters of human sexuality and institutional decisions will be made in light of this position."

So, Erskine has not made any decision to ban LGBT students or fire LGBT faculty.

Not yet.

Erskine has not made it policy to withhold honors or lower grades of LGBT students.

Not yet.

But its board of trustees, right when state same-sex marriages become legal and two gay athletes have found acceptance from their classmates, has made it clear they want to roll the march of progress backwards.

As founder Cyd Zeigler wrote in a recent column, "This policy was not put forward because of a sudden spike in unmarried straight couples having sex. This policy was released and promoted publicly because two gay athletes came out, and there was a backlash from older alumni and conservative Christians. For the trustees to say they were not trying to pass a divisive statement, they are either completely oblivious to reality or flat-out lying."

Look, no school tells queer kids they should kill themselves – yet LGBT youth are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts. No school promotes bullying – yet 90 percent of LGBT teens say they get bullied at school. Murder is not legal in Wyoming and never has been – yet somehow two men, in a dark and isolated field, felt sure the legal system would back them up when they beat Matthew Shepard to death.

So since Erskine seems so concerned about making sure its statements are not misinterpreted or misunderstood, let's make sure they understand what this backlash is all about. Nobody says you kicked two LGBT athletes, who a year ago were happily and honorable representing your institution in the nationals, out of school or off the team. What they are saying is that is that you are making life on your campus for those who fall outside your narrow views unlivable, devoid of hope and warmth.

You've turned your campus into hell on earth.