WENHAM — A mantle of evangelical Christian ideology has shrouded the gay and lesbian students at Gordon College for years, leading many of them to say they feel isolated, some even scorned.
Senior Tania Green has spent most of the past school year trying to piece together a welcome mat, but so far, she's been stymied, not by the dean, the chaplain or even dogma, but by her fellow students.
The Gordon College Student Association last week turned down a request to form a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning support club on campus, by a 7-6 vote. The student association must vote on forming any campus club.
"I have gay and lesbian friends on campus," Green said. "I'm doing this for them."
The president of the student association, Prashan De Bisser, said those who rejected the proposal agree there's a need for such a group but weren't convinced it needed to be established under the auspices of student government.
One association member was absent, and if that vote had resulted in a deadlock, De Bisser said he isn't certain how he would have cast the tie-breaking vote.
Green, who's heterosexual, agrees some students just don't think the club is a matter for student government, but said there were other issues.
One opponent even compared homosexuality to a disease, alcoholism.
"He said, 'What if students wanted to start a club to talk about their love of alcohol?'" Green said. "It's a ridiculous comparison."
While the goal of the group would have been to support people with alternative lifestyles, within the context of evangelism, that has its limitations.
Green named the club Spectrum, an allusion to the range of sexual orientations. Faculty adviser Paul Borgman said the club would have been in no way an advocate for homosexual activity. Rather, the intention was to give "those isolated from the greater community somewhere to go and tell their stories."
"As a Christian, I feel passionately about supporting Spectrum," Borgman said. "The mandate of the Gospel is to love through listening."
Sophomore Kyle Smith doesn't publicly announce his homosexuality but said he's not afraid to admit it if the subject comes up. He said fellow students can be alternately supportive and derisive, but they largely ignore the subject of homosexuality.
"Mostly I notice the absence" of discussion, Smith said.
Senior Phil Nichols was disappointed with the student association's vote. He thinks some people are afraid of the message that would be sent if a club formed. Gordon is already viewed as a liberal school among the ranks of evangelical Christian colleges, he said, and some may have thought a "yes" vote would further reinforce that image.
Love the sinner, hate the sin
It's not that the school discriminates against alternative lifestyles. An agreement every student signs each year calls homosexual acts a sin against God, but it says the same thing about heterosexual sex, outside of marriage.
It's more a question of recognition.
Green got the idea for the club after the appearance at the school last year of Soul Force, a group that visits Christian campuses to raise awareness of alternate lifestyles. That was followed by a book widely read on campus called "If I Could Tell You."
Both were well-received, and Green hoped that receptive beginning would carry over as she lobbied for the club. The student association president, De Bisser, said his fellow students agree there's a need for some kind of forum where gay students can safely be together, but they aren't so sure it should be sponsored by the student government. Some voters said they thought the club should have faculty input or guidance.
Green said some have suggested the group be sponsored by the school's ministry office. Gay students feel that implies they have a problem that can be solved through ministry, she said.
She's not sure what happens next. She's asked that she be allowed to make her pitch again, but it's unclear if she'll be given the opportunity. If she's denied, there won't be a club at the school next year.
In the love-the-sinner, hate-the-sin campus world at the school, Smith would be satisfied with just being recognized for who he is.
"It's not just an opportunity for us to tell our stories," he said of the club. "It gives us a face. We would know the school is willing to admit we exist."