A global pandemic has kept many from gathering and connecting; some Gordon students have taken this opportunity to build a community that transcends geological boundaries and requires no physical contact to find belonging, share experiences, and raise awareness about a topic at the college that continues to be a source of tension on and off campus: the LGBTQ+ Christian community.
On July 18, 2020, an instagram account called @lgbtqplusatgordon was created to be “a safe, anonymous space for members of the LGBTQ+ community who attend or have attended Gordon to share their stories in order to empower them, raise awareness about the challenges of being LGBTQ+ at Gordon, and decrease the stigma that being a part of this community has at this institution,” according their first post.
The account is co-lead by two unnamed persons determined to cultivate an online community as a way to give a platform to queer students; they want to provide a window into the queer experience at Gordon for those who may otherwise never know.
“@voicesofgordon [the instagram account sharing the stories of Gordon students and alumni who have been sexually assaulted] was a huge inspiration for me in starting this account.” Says one of the co-creators of @lgbtqplusatgordon.
“When I first saw their account, my mind immediately began spinning and considering other people groups at Gordon that needed to have a safe space to share their stories. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, that was the group that my mind gravitated towards. After thinking more about it, I asked one of my friends if they would be willing to co-run this page with me. We both shared the same vision of raising awareness for LGBTQ+ individuals at Gordon through a social media account.”
Members of the LGBTQ+ community face unique challenges at Gordon College. The stance of the administration has remained firm and can be found clearly in the college’s Life and Conduct Statement under “Practices Governed by Scripture”: “Those words and actions which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.”
Gordon held several lectures in Spring of 2017, including a lecture by the author of “Single, Gay, and Christian,” that expressely indicate a “traditional” stance towards gayness. Essentially: remain celibate, or live in sin.
Before attending Gordon, students are required to sign the above Life and Conduct Statement, wherein they agree to follow the expectations set within the document. For some, it is simply another piece of paperwork to sign. For others, it marks the beginning of a painful chapter at an institution where anyone who diverges from the heteronormative expectation is in violation of community guidelines.
As of August 20, 2020, @lgbtqplusatgordon is 753 followers strong. Those who wish to share are able to do so completely anonymously by filling out the google form linked in the account’s bio. Some share their names, but many do not, as the freedom of being anonymous gives many the space to safely share a part of themselves that has long been hidden without fear of social or administrative backlash.
Anonymity has played a particularly powerful role in the culture created by the account. It “allows our community to gather people around who are hurting and oppressed, yet, at the same time, celebrate those who are healing or further along in their journeys. This can be done without people needing to disclose their identities or put themselves in harm’s way. There is great power in storytelling. This sharing of vulnerability allows people to think on a deeper level about sexuality and gender identity…” The freedom to share without repercussions has opened the door for a more vulnerability, and ultimately, authenticity.
This account not only gives an anonymous voice for Gordon students, both past and present, to share their experiences, it also provides a mentorship program. Followers are able to sign up and be matched with a mentor by inquiring through direct message or commenting on the post titled “Mentor Program Information.”
The goal of this program is to “provide a safe person for LGBTQ+ mentees to go to… with questions and receive support from,” according to the post. The impact of this mentorship program could be immense for the Gordon community.
Gordon is known for its unfavorable attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community, seen especially in recent years with the current lawsuit between the college and Dr. Margaret Deweese-Boyd for being denied a promotion despite unanimous recommendation from the Faculty Senate, allegedly as a result of her support for LGBTQ+ students. Additionally in 2014, President D. Michael Lindsay was one of 14 religious leaders to sign a letter to the White House asking for exemption from LGBTQ+ discrimination laws.
The chance to connect with someone who shares their experience is powerful, according to the account’s owners. Dr. Amy E. Green, Director of Research at The Trevor Project, has done research that shows the importance of outlets like this account and the community it creates. She says that “…positive social interactions remain vital for suicide prevention. According to The Trevor Project’s 2020 national survey, LGBTQ youth who reported high levels of social support from family and friends or access to at least one LGBTQ affirming space were significantly less likely to attempt suicide.” Safe spaces like this have a deep impact on the mental health of students who would otherwise feel completely alone.
Gordon students who are looking for a community of LGBTQ+ individuals and allies outside of this account are invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The account creators have a word for those reading the Tartan:
“Thank you for reading this. We appreciate your willingness to read what we have to share. We appreciate you being invested and supporting us, as you all are the reason that this account is thriving and making such an impact. You are heard. You are loved. You belong. We believe in your love. We believe in you.”