Historic Homecoming for GLBT Alumni at Wheaton, an Evangelical College

Wheaton College in Illinois has been called the Harvard of the evangelicals. Longtime readers of this blog may recall my reports from their theology conferences on the Trinity and spiritual formation. Though at one time I felt nourished by immersion in a community of serious Christian intellectuals, my shifting political sensibilities eventually made me too uncomfortable to return to an environment where non-heteronormative lives were (at best) erased. 

That’s why I was particularly happy to receive the latest Soulforce e-newsletter, which featured a report on OneWheaton, “a community of LGBTQ’s and allies at Wheaton”. This month, some 600 members took the bold step of attending Wheaton’s homecoming weekend as openly queer alumni and allies. Here’s an excerpt from the newsletter:

“This is a real coming out, being here, being ourselves,” said Frances Motiwalla, a 2000 Political Science graduate. “That’s what this weekend is all about. This was a reassertion of our whole self as part of the community.”

Motiwalla joined dozens for whom this past weekend was their first time returning to their alma mater. Most gay Wheaton alumni never return to campus, associating their college years with shame, loneliness, and marginalization. But in a show of pride and courage, over 50 rainbow clad alumni spanning the classes of ’54 through 2013 ate together in the school’s cafeteria, attended the sold-out Homecoming football game, and showed their families around campus.

They kicked off the weekend with a free concert by Jennifer Knapp, a Christian musician who recently came out as lesbian, and a panel led by LGBTQ Wheaton graduates. OneWheaton explains that most LGBTQ Wheaton alumni never return to campus because of too many negative associations and hurtful memories. This homecoming weekend, however, saw over 50 rainbow clad alumni going back to 1954 and even current students eating together in the cafeteria, attending the football game and showing friends and family around campus.

The groups explains that the weekend, besides a few stares and off-hand comments, was a success in engaging students in conversation and providing some reconciliation for alumni. Said the group’s Co-Director Ruth Wardchenk, “When I drove onto the campus Friday I was there for the first time in 15 years and I burst out in tears. I was home and I was no longer afraid.”

While the school is not officially budging on the issue yet, their impact was certainly felt on campus. Wrote one student, “Thank you for coming to campus this weekend… I don’t quite know what I think yet, but you’ve got me asking questions and thinking. So, thank you so much for coming back to Wheaton.”

Click here to support Soulforce’s Equality Ride, which brings the message of inclusion to Christian colleges across America. Click here to sign OneWheaton’s statement of support, share your story, or find resources to end your isolation.

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